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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

When Your Doctor Can't See You

This past weekend my wife was pretty sick.  She ran a fever, felt horrible, and had multiple lymph nodes enlarged.  It wasn't going away so Monday morning she called our doctor to see if she could get in to be seen.  The office said that he was fully booked but would see if he could work her in and would call back.  As we were waiting for the call we talked about how long it might take to hear back, eventually deciding that it may not be for several hours if at all.  She was tired of feeling so sick so she decided to go to a local urgent care facility.  We knew it would take a while for her to be seen as the clinic is first-come, first-served, and it would cost more than going to our regular doctor.  But we didn't want to take the chance of waiting all day and not being able to start treatment.   The doctor at the urgent care diagnosed her with strep throat, prescribed antibiotics, and she is feeling much better today.

Why do I bring this up?  To illustrate a point about many veterinary clients.

Multiple times per week (and sometimes multiple times per day) my clinic gets calls from clients with a sick pet that they want seen right away.  Sometimes we can't accommodate them because their doctor isn't working, our schedule is full, an emergency comes in, or other situation.  More often than you might imagine the client gets upset and demands to be seen anyway.  It's not uncommon for some of them to be quite rude and insistent in their request.  

The worst situations are near the end of the day, especially within an hour of closing.  At that late hour if a client calls in with a potentially serious case we may end up recommending that they go straight to the local emergency clinic.  There is often little we can do that close to our closing time and rather than delaying care or having them go to two locations, so we recommend the best care....going somewhere that can see them faster and where they can take the time to fully work up a case.  But it's not uncommon to have clients get upset because we won't take them in anyway, even if we have no available openings.

I can understand the frustration of not being able to see your own doctor.  And I know that going to an urgent care or emergency facility costs more than going to your regular physician/vet.  But the reality of life is that doctors get busy, fill their schedules, and don't always have time to see every single patient.  There are only so many hours in a day and each patient takes some of that time.  At some point a doctor simply runs out of hours.  Trying to squeeze in more patients means that each patient gets less time, which can decrease the quality of medicine that is performed.  Getting mad over not being able to get in right away doesn't change these realities.

Not being able to see a patient doesn't mean that the doctor doesn't care.  It doesn't mean that they're cold, unfeeling, or don't want the patient to get needed care.  In fact, they may very well want to but know that they wouldn't be able to give their patient the time that was really needed.

When my wife couldn't get in at our regular doctor we had a choice.  We could have gotten upset, ranted at the receptionist and demanded to be seen.  Or we could have realized that our doctor was filled up and there were other options available to us that would allow her to be seen and treated.  We decided on the latter option and were quite satisfied.  We also don't hate our physician.  

Some veterinary clients could use a lesson like this.


  1. I know it's not directly analogous, but I spent the first 15 years of my career doing high-level tech support for a large computer company. Our highest volume of serious calls was ALWAYS Friday afternoon. Keep in mind that our services were covered by their warranty, free of charge, and they could call us at any time to help fix their issues. But inevitably, a certain subset would fight a problem all week (without calling us for help), and then on Friday afternoon realize that if it wasn't working by Monday, they'd not be able to do things like process their payroll or finish their quarterly results to submit to the SEC. And that means I'd be stuck in my cube until about 3AM Saturday morning fixing a problem that could have been fixed over the course of a leisurely Tuesday.

    Well, with a pet, if something looks bad and isn't getting better, don't wait until it's a crisis AND the office is about to close before you do something about it. Over time, some "needless" vet visits are likely to be cheaper than waiting until things are dire and taking in your pet for emergency care. (Not to mention better for the health of your pet!)

    1. You might be surprised how accurate that analogy is in medicine!


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