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Hang Time (Why Vets Are So Busy Right Now)

I can’t tell you how frequently people are asking me why veterinary clinics are suddenly so freakin’ busy these days! Starting during the pandemic in 2020, why is there such a long wait to get appointments? Scroll down to read about some of the many details contributing to this situation.

Andy-in-conePrepare for long waits at emergency clinics

When you arrive at Olympia Pet Emergency, if staff estimate that it’ll be 4-6 hours before a doctor can see your companion, believe them! If you read this post before you drive to the ER, be prepared for a long wait. If you read this while sitting in the parking lot, call someone to deliver supplies to you.

  • Water & snacks for yourself
  • Water & snacks for your cat
  • Something to occupy your time: your laptop, a book, etc
  • Litter box for your cat

Staff at the emergency clinic are very good at triage. They’re seeing patients in order of urgency. If it takes 4 hours for your cat to see a doctor, that’s actually good news because it means that your cat is stable enough to be ok waiting that long. As you wait, you’ll undoubtedly see a handful of families arrive with animals in crisis who need immediate care and who won’t survive the situation. It’s gut-wrenching. And it’ll emphasize to you that the staff really are doing their best to see patients in order of urgency.

Why are clinics so overwhelmed right now?

  • Adoptions are way up. Great news for cats in shelters who are getting homes instead of being euthanized. But veterinary clinics can’t keep up with the new patient loads.
  • New pet families are making appointments for things they don’t realize are perfectly normal. When caring for a cat for the first time in their adult life, there’s a lot for people to learn. They’ll probably notice things they’ve never noticed before so they call the vet to make appointments (or get triage help) for issues that dont’ require medical exams. (Ex: hairballs)
  • vet-schoolFamilies are spending abnormally large amounts of time at home with their companions, so they’re now noticing things that they never noticed before and want to have doctors look into. (Ex: excessive grooming, new scabs or lumps, finicky eating, walking gingerly or with a limp, less waste being produced.) When people are busy working long days, they scoop litter boxes without paying really close attention. These days they have the bandwidth to pay closer attention to little details.
  • Famlies not being face-to-face with doctors mean it takes LONGER for staff to do exams and also chat with humans seperately. It takes more effort and more time since there’s no nonverbal communication.
  • Extra time to sanitize more frequently. Clinics have to spend a lot of extra time sanitizing bathrooms and lobbies when customers or delivery people and come through and after staff changes. (Of course it’s not taking extra time to sanitize staff, rooms, or equipment between patients; That was already normal procedure before the pandemic.)
  • Doctors & techs are burning out VERY quickly now. Work is crazy busy, they’re working lots of overtime, and clients are frustrated. These professionals need time off and some are just getting out of the business.
  • Specialized staffing means clinics can’t “just hire more staff”. There aren’t enough adequately trained people to fill the positions needed at at vet clinics. Even if there’s a sudden influx of people who are interested in getting into the profession, it will take years for them to get the right education, training, certification, and licensing. It’ll take even longer for specialties like radiology, cardiology, surgery, oncology, neurology, pathology, dentistry, dematology, ophthalmology, chemistry, hematology, cytology, immunology, parasitology, and chiropractic, acupuncture – the list goes on and on!
  • constructionEven if clinics could suddenly hire a bunch of new staff, the clinics would need renovating to accommodate more patients at any given time. Even if a clinic could suddenly a bunch of adequately trained staff, their clinics would still need to be expanded for the buidlings to have additional exam rooms, treatment areas, operating rooms, and kennels behind-the-scenes. That means applying for business loans, getting the slew of necessary permits, and interviewing builders and/or architects. Then they’d have to hope that their chosen builders and subcontractors have plenty of staff and supplies on-hand. (With supply chain interruptions, some areas of the construction industry can’t do their work.)
  • The client-base increase extends far beyond just Olympia-Lacey-Tumwater to surrounding rural areas. Many people travel to clinics in Olympia because they live in areas without adequate veterinary services.

2 comments to Hang Time (Why Vets Are So Busy Right Now)

  • Lin

    Well Kari, this was timely and sad to see what’s happening. I’ve tried a couple of times to get 2 of my cats into clinic, and both appointments were a month out. Both cats are having some symptoms that could be much worse a month from now. Then an emergency. My kitty with 3 legs now can’t use the front leg on the same side of teh body that is missing back leg. Again…. no openings for a month even though we’ve been clients at this clinic for over 20 years. So, it looks like emergency clinic will be where I take him and since it’s not life threatening….possibly a broken bone, we will probably have to wait the 4 to 5 hours with a kitty that is so fearful of vet clinics after leg amputation that he will be vomitting in his carrier. Ugh.

    • You’re not alone. I’ve heard so many people say the same thing! Before writing this, I got input from veterinary clinic staff (including a DVM). They say this is a world-wide problem.

      Be prepared for a long day (I know someone who was there for more than 6 hours!) However, you might get lucky & the emergency clinic might not be as busy at the time when you arrive. I know someone who was in & out in just a couple of hours.

      If your vet is who I think she is, make the appointment that’s a month out, then ask to leave her voicemail describing the situation. If she has a cancellation, she’ll contact you. ‘-)

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