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