While you may have been accustomed to waiting a day or two when you called to schedule an appointment for your pet, now you likely have to wait days, weeks, or perhaps months, to get a routine veterinary appointment. We strive to care for every pet who needs us, but the entire nation is facing the critical issue of an overwhelming number of pets who need veterinary attention. Below, the Bolton Veterinary Hospital team answers common questions about the problems facing the veterinary industry during the COVID-19 pandemic, and explains why you have to wait so long to see your veterinarian.
Question: Why do I have to wait so long to get my pet scheduled for wellness care?
Answer: At the height of the pandemic, many veterinary practices were closed, until they were listed as essential businesses. However, when they opened again, they were operating with bare-bones staff, because of illness and staffing shortages, and a massive backlog of wellness care built up. Veterinary practices are still trying to sort through the millions of pets needing annual physical exams, vaccinations, and elective surgeries. At the same time, they’re trying to juggle emergencies and squeeze in sick and injured pets into their already overbooked schedule. At this time, veterinary practices may be scheduling non-urgent care days to months in advance.
Q: What caused the veterinary staffing shortage?
A: Before the pandemic, the veterinary industry was already struggling to keep up with staffing demand. Then, staff were overwhelmed mentally and physically by the pandemic, and finding and retaining veterinary staff has been more difficult. Veterinary technicians stay with their career an average of only five years before they leave the field to find a different career path. Too few skilled professionals are entering—and staying in—the workforce to keep up with the demand. Factors that drive veterinary professionals to leave the field include:
- Low pay
- Long hours
- Lack of a work-life balance
- Demanding clients
- Inability to advance and grow
- Burnout and compassion fatigue
Q: Do tons of new pets still need veterinary care?
A: The thought has been that the huge numbers of new pets who were finding homes amid the pandemic was one reason why securing a veterinary appointment was so difficult. However, recent research has disproved that. In fact, pet adoption numbers not only were down in 2020, they also were the lowest they had been in five years. And, veterinary practices that were surveyed reported that the majority of their appointments were for current clients, rather than new pet owners. Many new clients were being scheduled, because they could not get in quickly enough at their regular veterinary practice, and searched for a new hospital to see their pet. So, while more pets have homes with loving families, a huge surge in the American pet population is not why veterinary appointments are difficult to procure.
Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected veterinary care?
A: The pandemic has certainly put a damper on speedy veterinary care. Rigorous disinfecting and curbside care protocols have hindered our normally efficient team, as our team members have to spend precious time cleaning our facility. While curbside care minimized face-to-face interaction, and kept our team, clients, and community safer, this process took a great deal more time than in-hospital appointments. According to data from the American Veterinary Medical Association Census of Veterinarians and Veterinary Practice Owners, veterinarians saw fewer patients per hour in 2020 than 2019, and average productivity declined by almost 25%. This created a substantial drop in the number of pets who could receive veterinary care each day, and the industry is still attempting to catch up.
Q: What should I do if my pet needs urgent care?
A: Since many emergency veterinary hospitals are overwhelmed with both urgent cases and minor issues, they may refer you to a different hospital, or you may have to wait for hours before your pet is seen. Our hospital is staffed around the clock, to ensure we can provide urgent and emergency care for the pets in our community. If your pet requires immediate care, contact us before heading out, so we can first answer triage questions, and verify that your pet truly needs urgent veterinary attention. We’ll do our best to see your pet as quickly as we can, but life-threatening emergencies will be treated first.
Since securing an appointment for your pet can be challenging, we recommend that you call well in advance to schedule your four-legged friend’s wellness care. Of course, if your pet falls ill or becomes injured, avoid waiting until the problem is serious to contact us. At Bolton Veterinary Hospital, we will always do our best to fit your pet in as soon as possible, so they can receive the care they need.