Hope you had a fantastic Thanksgiving!
Many of the people reading this know me from my previous job in veterinary general practice. Many of them I met years ago and over time and through experience, we developed a veterinarian/client relationship and they came to trust me with the health and well being of their family pets. This is of course, a huge honor for a veterinarian and for many of us it is exactly why we went into this profession in the first place.
Presently, I am working in an emergency clinic and the dynamics are considerably different. I rarely see people more than once and they have to come into this situation trusting us from the beginning and from our side of the exam table, we have to establish that trust as quickly as possible. Their pet’s life might depend on it. Sometimes that trust comes easy, people understand the situation we are all in and they go with it, sometimes it’s less easy and sometimes it’s downright impossible. I’d like to offer anyone reading this some advice on how to make it less scary for themselves and hopefully have a better chance at a good outcome for their pet.
There are two ways a client ends up bringing their pet to an emergency clinic. The first is the more obvious one, something happens after hours and the pet requires immediate attention. In these cases, the owner may call their veterinarian and receive instructions to contact the emergency clinic or they may find the number online. The second way a pet ends up at our facility is if he/she has an illness or issue that is going to require a level of care or monitoring that the pet’s family veterinarian cannot provide. In either situation, the owner of the pet has to bring their beloved family member to someone they have likely never met before and entrust that person with their pet’s health and well being.
This can be scary for some people. Sometimes it can be a little daunting for us as well. I have a few ideas about how we can make it a little less scary for you and ultimately better for your pet.
The first step would be that you just have to try to come into the situation with a little trust in the first place. There are few if any veterinarians or veterinary staff working in an emergency clinic who don’t really want to be there. It’s long hours, you sacrifice a lot of things we all take for granted (sleep schedules for one) and you miss that connection with clients and their pets. Don’t get me wrong, there are upsides including that the emergency clinic doesn’t support veterinarians with egos or ones who want to be dishonest. There’s too many people seeing what we do or say to clients for us to be anything but transparent and honest. That alone may not make you trust an ER veterinarian or the staff but it should help.
The other thing to remember is that if your veterinarian chose to send you to a specific emergency clinic, it’s because they trust them. Usually, if there is enough business to support an emergency clinic, two pop up to fill the need. Most veterinarians will choose the clinic that treats their clients the same way they would treat their clients. Ask your veterinarian which emergency clinic they recommend, ask them why and try to ask them before you have an emergency.
The next step after determining which emergency clinic your veterinarian recommends is to call them yourself, preferably before you have an emergency and ask all of the things you might want to know. Try to call after the morning and evening busy periods, so skip 7am to 10am and 4pm to 8pm and keep in mind, anytime can be busy for an emergency clinic. So if they seem a little brusque the first time, call back again and see if maybe you just caught them at a bad time. Once you have an idea of what the culture of the practice is like it might be a little easier for you to go into an emergency situation with a little more trust.
The final point I’d like to make when it comes to trust and the emergency clinic is that the emergency clinic has to cover all their bases, every time. What I mean by this is that we not only have to answer to you, we also have to answer to your veterinarian and to each other. Any veterinarian can only work with the information provided to them and when your veterinarian or the next shift at the emergency clinic takes over your pet’s care they will want to know why they don’t have certain pieces of information. Saying that the client and the veterinarian discussed options and decided that a specific approach fit the family’s wishes better is perfectly acceptable. Telling your colleagues the case they are taking over is lacking important information because the veterinarian failed to offer certain diagnostics is never acceptable. So while it might seem like the emergency clinic is pushing a lot of testing up front, it’s because we are but not for the reasons you might think. We have a limited window to get an answer to your problem and an obligation to offer you all of the possible options within our window. There is nothing wrong with doing the less emergent diagnostics with your veterinarian after we get your pet to a more stable state, but that has to be your decision not ours and you can’t make the decision to wait on diagnostics if they aren’t even offered in the first place.
I hope your pet never ends up in an emergency clinic. But if you do find yourself needing one, I hope that you can take some of these points and make it a less stressful and smoother event than it might have been otherwise.
Thanks for reading.