I’ve wanted to write this post for a while now, but have been hesitant to do so because the content is likely provocative. Some of my points may make your heart rate accelerate or may even anger you. Please know my intention is not to be divisive but rather to highlight for pet parents some important key issues about which the vast majority of veterinarians, both primary care doctors and board-certified specialists, feel strongly and passionately.
Important Point #1: Emergency vs. convenience
Urgent health matters pop up all the time; that is simply a fact of life both in human and veterinary medicine. Accordingly primary care veterinarians often prepare for these almost daily occurrences by allotting time in their hectic schedules for emergency patient visits. Veterinarians, both primary care doctors and board-certified specialists, do their absolute best to meet the needs of patients requiring urgent medical care.
I don’t think I’ve written anything too contentious yet. During my internship and residency training, faculty doctors repeatedly told my fellow interns/residents and me,
“If owners thinks their pet has an emergency, there is an emergency patient you need to see.”
This sounds like a simple concept, right? Well after 12 years of clinical practice, I’ve come to realize it is not necessarily true. Rather it is a business policy that gets paying pet parents through the hospital door. Essentially I was trained to never say no to a pet parent. Unfortunately this was/is a policy that some choose to take advantage, as some reportedly emergent pets weren’t actually experiencing medical or surgical emergencies. Too many times pet parents played the proverbial emergency card purely because they knew veterinarians will see these urgent patients almost immediately, and thus they don’t have to wait for the next available regular appointment.
Let me use a relatively common example to illustrate this point more cogently:
Mr. X calls stating he needs to bring in his pet immediately because of urgent problem #1. As Dr. Smith has an urgent care appointment available, the parent is appropriately instructed to bring his pet to the hospital for an urgent care evaluation. When Dr. Smith interviews Mr. X about urgent problem #1, she ultimately learns the pet is happily quite stable and happy; furthermore, Dr. Smith learns urgent problem #1 has actually been an issue for five weeks but Mr. X now wants the issue addressed because he is leaving for holiday in a few days.
Realistically urgent problem #1 is really chronic problem #1, and because of the pet parent’s manipulation, an urgent care appointment is no longer available for a pet that truly needs to be evaluated by a veterinarian for an emergency health issue.
Important Point #2: Instant gratification is rare
I’m perpetually intrigued by America’s obsession with instant gratification. The demand for immediate results has seeped into every corner of our lives in the United States. We have come to believe we are entitled to receive services and objects instantaneously. How many times have you yelled at your computer when it’s slow? I know I have!
“The need for instant gratification is not new, but our expectation of ‘instant’ has become faster, and as a result, our patience is thinner.” – Narayan Janakiraman, an assistant marketing professor at the University of Texas, Arlington.
Sadly veterinary medicine hasn’t been immune to this selfish societal trend. How has veterinary medicine been affected by the demand for immediate results? As a board-certified veterinary internal medicine specialist, I frequently evaluate patients with chronic problems – chronic vomiting, chronic diarrhea, etc. For most long-lasting health issues, there are many potential causes. Accordingly I develop a logical diagnostic plan to rule out potential causes and make a definitive diagnosis. Yet many families often become disgruntled when they aren’t given a definitive diagnosis after one visit. Believe me, I wish I could unquestionably unmask every pet’s ailment in less than an hour and begin treating immediately; I want my patients to feel better as quickly as possible. But I don’t always get what I want, and neither do pet parents in this regard. Pet parents must recognize that a proper diagnostic investigation is a process!
If your pet has been living with a problem for weeks or months, it is unlikely a veterinarian will be able to provide you a definitive diagnosis for your pet’s health issue in less than 60 minutes!
Important Point #3: You can’t always believe what you read
Veterinarians believe pet parents should have access to medical information, as well as to the latest and best available clinical knowledge. This is why we spend so much time talking to families about their pets’ medical issues. This is why we publish educational materials about various health conditions. This is why I started this blog!
But in today’s age of digital information and instant gratification, there is a lot of incorrect material to which pet parents can gain access too easily. Multiple times a day I hear family members say, “I did some research on the internet” or “I was reading online.” Knowing there is so much inaccurate information online, I have to fight the urge not to verbalize my disdain the numerous blatantly erroneous websites started by various pet parents and message boards. I often tell families I wish Dr. Google, Dr. Safari, and Dr. Bing would have their medical licenses revoked!
Please remember Fifi’s diabetes page and Rusty’s chronic kidney disease page are not necessarily accurate sources of information about diabetes mellitus and chronic kidney disease, respectively. Rather the contents of these pages simply represent the experiences of families, folks who don’t have veterinary credentials. If you want accurate medical information about your pet’s health condition, please speak with your pet’s family veterinarian. S/he will be happy to explain complicated health concepts to you so you are as informed as possible. If you aren’t satisfied with the information you’ve been provided, you should request a referral to a board-certified veterinary specialist. If you can’t resist doing some web research, please be sure to stick primarily to those sites whose content is written by veterinarians and/or other credentialed veterinary medical professionals.
The take-away message…
Primary care veterinarians and board-certified veterinary specialists are unequivocally dedicated to educating pet parents and providing the best possible healthcare. We will turn our clinical schedules upside down to accommodate emergency patients so please don’t take advantage of our dedication to your pet by claiming your pet has an emergency health issue when an urgent appointment is desired only because one is truly only more convenient for you. Please recognize veterinarians don’t have magic wands or crystal balls to use to make a definitive diagnosis for your pet. The diagnostic process is exactly that – a process! If you want to be a well-educated and properly informed pet parent, be sure you get medical information from a veterinarian!
To find a board-certified veterinary internal medicine specialist, please visit the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine.
To find a board-certified veterinary emergency and critical care specialist, please visit the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care.
Wishing you wet-nosed kisses,