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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

Waiting for Dr. Right

As is typical for me on a given weekend during this glorious summer season, I found myself at my community pool this past Saturday, ready to spend time outside enjoying the fresh air and sunshine.

While engaging in my typical routine of slathering myself in sunscreen with an SPF of 50 (I’m an oncologist after all!), I discovered a mole present just lateral to my umbilicus (that means just to the side of my belly button for you non-medical people out there) that was now significantly larger and more raised in appearance than I ever remembered.

My first reaction was of sheer vanity, and I immediately tried to figure out ways to cover up the alien-like creature growing along my stomach so not to cause any alarm amongst the other regular attendees at the pool. My second reaction was, “This needs to be evaluated by a dermatologist ASAP!”

I knew better than to try and obtain an appointment on a Saturday afternoon, and figured I would wait until Monday to start calling to find a doctor who accepted both my insurance and new patients. It was then I thought about what would happen if a similar event occurred with one of our owners.

At our hospital, owners can call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to schedule an appointment. We truly have an “open door” policy for our specialty services, which means there is 99.9% chance a pet will seen within a few hours of calling. What a far cry from our expectations for our human doctor counterparts.

Monday morning I began my quest. Immediately, I became frustrated because I needed to logon to my insurance company’s website in order to even begin to search for available options. After struggling for 15 minutes to recall my user name and password (who truly remembers the exact spelling of the town in which they are born AND their paternal grandfather’s middle name?), I finally was able to type “Dermatologist” into the query box and anxiously awaited the results.

Imagine my surprise when my search returned > 60 names, organized simply by geographical distance from my current address. This was how I was supposed to decide who is capable enough to evaluate the strange creature growing on my skin?

Names were listed simply by radius (with a remarkable number of doctors located within 0.1 miles). No information was available on qualifications, number of years in practice, gender, area of expertise, or even whether or not the office accepted new patients or not.

Drawing off my experience working in large veterinary referral hospitals, the most reasonable approach seemed to be to first try the dermatologist’s office located within the same building where my internist was located.

I dialed the number and after several rings and an approximate 4-minute wait time, I was transferred to an impersonal recorded voice informing me to listen closely as “their menu options had changed”.

By changed, this voice clearly meant they would run through all possible permutations of why an individual would contact their office in a 10 second span, ordering me to press any number from “1” to “9” in what I perceived as an aggressive and condescending tone. Of course, I found myself opting for the dreaded “press zero to repeat these menu options” option, as my hearing skills and cognitive abilities did not measure up to their expectations

After finally being patched through to a live individual, I then begged to schedule a new appointment to have my abominable mole evaluated. “Dr. Dermatologist’s first available appointment is on July 15th. We have a cancellation for tomorrow at 11 a.m. if you can make it then.”

Stunned silence ensued, as I thought 1) July 15th? Really, that is the FIRST available time the doctor is available to see me, when there are not less than 15 other dermatologists in a quarter-mile radius from her office?; and 2) In order to see her tomorrow at 11 a.m., I would have to cancel all of MY OWN morning appointments, and that would not go over well with my owners!

So I did what any other accepting human being would do and took the first available appointment and then cold-called about five other dermatology offices in my area. The EARLIEST available appointment with a doctor was AUGUST!

So I did what any other accepting human being would do and settled on taking the first available appointment with a physician’s assistant early next week.

When owners call our hospital — which, I would venture, are for non-critical, yet emergent appointments — we do everything to fit that pet in the same day. Pets newly diagnosed with cancer are offered appointments as soon as they call, often even on the same day.

True emergencies are referred to our wonderful critical care doctors, mainly because we know that there is no room to make those pets wait even just the ½ hour to an hour that I would need to finish up another appointment before seeing them.

Owners are never patched through to an automated answering service and if the phone rings more than twice before someone picks up, it’s probably because the receptionists is temporarily working alone, and helping another distraught client check in or check out.

Why is there such a difference in the expectation for veterinarians as compared to our own health? Why do we accept less timely and impersonal care for ourselves, yet the demand we have for our pets is so high?

I think the question speaks volumes to the state of healthcare in our country right now. And I have such mixed emotions when owners say, “I wish I had a doctor who was as easily accessible as you.”

Truthfully, after my experiences trying to make a simple appointment today, so do I.

Dr. Joanne Intile

Image: Kati Neudert / via Shutterstock

Comments  5

Leave Comment
  • I second that!
    06/05/2013 02:28pm

    I have had the identical experience many times, either for myself or my children! The hoops you have to jump through to get seen by a doctor almost make you say "forget it!" and hope it's nothing serious. Add to the fact that where we live, doctors seem to come and go so regularly, you never see the same doctor more than once. No continuity, and you have to go through the process all over again - log on (what was my username?), try to make some kind of quality assessment, choose and get an appointment that actually fits your schedule. On the other hand, I have been with the same vet for over 10 years. He always has emergency appointments built into his schedule (for a slightly higher fee), and he always seems to have the time to spend with me, making sure I understand my pet's condition and his recommendations. He even has a spare moment to ask about my family. When do you get that from a people doctor? You wait and wait, they rush in, write a script, and off you go. And for their services, the people doctors make a whole lot more money. Keep up the good work, all you dedicated vets!

  • Finding compentant care
    06/05/2013 04:51pm

    We were very lucky when moving to our present location as I had access to a list of veterinarians who had gone to the most recent WSAVA conference. I was able to look through the whole list to find the veterinarians who practiced within our community and those close by. I figured that if veterinarians weren't willing to go to an event so close to home, they weren't actually interested in learning the latest in skills and scientific data. In the past I have encountered some who just want to have a holiday and catch up with friends, on our dime. Luckily, the closest veterinarian to our home turned out to be one of the attendees, and she has been an excellent choice for our whole household, includng communiating with the humans.

    While our system in Canada is just as bad for human medicine, we do have the option of going back to our GP, who is the person referring us, (not an insurance company as in your experience), and asking to be referred to someone different. Some doctors are just poor communicators, and others want to fit everyone into an assembly line, especially if they are specialists, so as an older person who has been around, I do definitely understand your frustration. Thank goodness we seem to have a bit more flexibility here.

  • Appointments
    06/05/2013 09:50pm

    I would guess that human doctors might be more "booked up" than veterinary specialists because many critters that NEED a specialist won't get the chance to have an appointment. The owner hopes for the best and doesn't take Fluffy or Fido to the doctor.

    Conversely, if a human needs a specialist, it isn't a question of IF they will call for an appointment, it's a question of WHEN they can get an appointment.

    I really appreciate that the local specialists are accessible. When the regular vet suggested Owen see a cardiologist, we had an appointment within 2 days.

    Echoing previous sentiments, though, if all doctors were like my vet, I wouldn't put off going to the doctor. We see the vet (you know, the REAL doctor) at least once a month for checkups, but rarely see a human doctor.

  • 06/05/2013 09:53pm

    P.S. I hope your "alien" turns out to be nothing. After your July 15th appointment, how long will it take to get any test results?

  • Dr. finding strategy
    06/05/2013 11:12pm

    Hi, as an LA resident, my strategy:
    1) Go to Healthgrades.com
    2) Select ins. plan/desired filters
    3) Go to Yelp.com
    4) Enter Dermatologists in search field
    5) select match with highest patient reviews....

    Thanks, E.J.B, MSCIT, BSMT, BA (ASCP)

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