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Friday, September 26, 2014

The "Perfect" Appointment Time

There are some clients with whom you simply can't win.
This morning our receptionist received a call from a pet owner with a sick cat.  The cat was lethargic and not eating so the client wanted to bring it in for an exam.  No problem.  We open at 9am for appointments (earlier for drop-offs, which is why someone was answering the phone), and had some openings first thing in the morning.  The receptionist offered a 9:00 or 9:15 appointment and if those didn't work we had a 2:45 and 3:00.  None of these worked for the client so she wanted to drop off, something we often recommend and actually prefer as it gives us more time to work up a case.  However, she had to pick the cat up by noon.  Keep in mind that our appointment schedule was filled from 9:30-11:00 and we also had surgeries and dental cleanings going on in the morning, so trying to get a sick pet looked at, worked up, and completely finished in three hours likely wasn't going to happen.
Some may think, "But three hours should be plenty of time to do a case!"  Yes, that's true, if it was the only case.  But that's never the scenario in a veterinary practice.  My clinic typically sees 30-40 patients per day made up of a mixture of in-room appointments, surgeries, and drop-offs. If you average that out with the number of hours a doctor is available, we're seeing a pet on average every 15-30 minutes.  We do put sick pets first, but if that pet is stable we'll work through other, more urgent cases.  Also, a sick pet may need diagnostic tests which can take time to perform.  Generally there isn't a way that we can guarantee a specific pick-up time for a sick pet.
I wish clients could understand that.  This particular one asked "Well, what am I supposed to do?  Wait until my next day off?"  Ummm....we offered you four appointment times, including the earliest ones in the morning, and also offered to drop off.  We're doing everything we can to work your pet into our schedule and get it seen today, even though we hadn't planned for it.  I'm very sorry if the appointment isn't perfect and I'm not sorry that we can't drop everything and every other patient to focus on your pet because our times are inconvenient to you.

What I think many people don't realize is how many other pets we may be trying to see at the same time.  It only makes sense to put the more seriously ill ones ahead of the milder cases or well pets.  It's only human to look at your own schedule and think "my dog has been there for five hours.  Why hasn't he been looked at yet?"  What clients may not know is that for the first two hours the dog was here we had in-room appointments to work through and the dog was standing in it's kennel wagging its tail.  For the next two hours the doctor was having to do surgeries in order to give the patients plenty of post-operative time to recover and be observed.  And then the next hour or two was taken up by prioritizing patients who were far more sick than this client's dog.  Five hours may seem like a long time to a waiting pet owner, but there is a LOT that happens at the clinic during that time.

This is a plea to pet owners.  If you call for an appointment and the vet offers multiple times or options, please don't be upset at us if it doesn't happen to fit your particular schedule.  We can't help it either and are honestly trying to find a mutual solution.  And if you drop your pet off at the vet, feel free to call periodically, but understand that it's difficult to adhere to a specific pick-up time because we can't predict when that hit-by-car is going to burst through the door, causing us to drop everything in order to save a life.

Nobody said being a vet was easy.  The people component of it is actually far more difficult than the medicine and surgery.