Have you faced longer wait times for veterinary visits? Patient owners tell us it is harder to get appointments for wellness check-ups with small animal veterinary clinics. We also hear that the wait times are longer for emergency practices and for specialty veterinarians like oncologists and cardiologists. To understand why – it helps to imagine a funnel. More people take their pets to primary veterinarians than ever before. Those vets, in turn, refer more urgent cases to emergency practices and more complicated cases to specialty vets.

While the demand for veterinary care increased exponentially, the number of qualified caregivers has remained flat. Unfortunately, that gap won’t be resolved soon.

But there are things you can do to make the process easier for yourself and your pet.

Why Do We Have Longer Wait Times for Veterinary Visits Now?

the United States has fewer than three dozen accredited vet schools so there aren’t many new veterinarians graduating every year to perform wellness services. Though class sizes are increasing, they aren’t keeping up with the increase in demand. Doctors like the ones at CARE that provide specialty services spend four years in vet school, then serve an internship followed by a residency and may need more extensive training in a specialty which limits their numbers even further.

We have also found that increase in specialty and emergency clinics nationally has created fierce competition for the available talent. The resulting shortage of doctors goes along with a dearth of qualified veterinary medical technicians and even front-office staff. Like many professions, we are suffering from workforce shortages.

At the same time, a higher number of people than ever have adopted dogs and cats during the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic has led all pet owners to spend much more time with animals at home and they are more likely notice health issues and seek veterinary care.

What Can Veterinarians Do To Avoid Longer Wait Times for Veterinary Visits?

In the long term, they can try to get medical people into the pipeline. CARE has created a scholarship at Gaston College that hopes to bring a more diverse array of vet techs to the field. We also have a unique, one-year veterinary technician internship program, which takes in about 10 candidates a year. This program puts them through specialized training, hoping to pique their interest in specialty and emergency medicine. For veterinarians we have an internship for new graduates that gives them accelerated training in emergency medicine, helping get them up speed and on the floor of the ER faster.

In the shorter term, we work to make sure that the sickest pets get care as quickly as possible. To do this we use a three-color triage scoring system for emergencies. A green situation isn’t an emergency and can usually be handled by a visit to a primary care vet. A yellow requires medical attention within a reasonable period, probably 24 to 72 hours. A red is a critical event that jumps your pet to the head of the line. By using this triage system, we can help owners feel comfortable that their pet can wait to be seen or know that things are serious and their pet needs more immediate care.

How Can Patients Help Themselves?

COVID has forced us all to re-set our expectations, across many industries. As with other professionals, we take veterinary medicine very seriously. It takes time to diagnose and treat illnesses and until more people join the profession, patient owners will have to understand and be patient.

The veterinary profession has adjusted to this new normal by thinking carefully about how we can help patient owners by treating the sickest animals first.

To aid your vet, first give your doctor as much detailed information as you can about irregularities in habits or behavior. If your animal has had seizures, document their length, frequency and severity and take video, if possible. For a pet seeming to have trouble breathing, time the number of resting breaths per minute. If your pet throws up, try to identify the offending substance and figure out when it was eaten. Having this information may help your veterinarian determine the severity of your pet’s signs and how urgent it is that they be seen.

Second, understand that advances in veterinary medicine have made diagnostic and treatment options more complex. Specialists have more possibilities to consider and explain to you and getting at the root of a problem may take longer once your pet has reached the clinic.

Third, think ahead. Be frank with the doctor about what procedures and levels of treatment you feel are best for you pet and for your finances. The more you prepare for the care your pet will need, the smoother this complicated and time-intensive process will be.

About CARE

CARE is like an animal version of a medical center for humans, providing all forms of treatment for pets. You can get emergency care 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and board-certified specialty care after a referral from your primary veterinarian. Please take a visual tour of the practice at carecharlotte.com/tour.

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