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Veterinary After Hours Emergency Care - Why such a bad rap?

Posted in Guest Blogger @ Nov 27th 2012 6:53pm - By Gillian Shippen, Nurse Manager & Business Owner 'Pets Need a Life Too'

As I was waiting for my morning cup of coffee from my local “drive thru” coffee place, the girls were chatting to me about a recent experience at a Veterinary After Hours Emergency Centre. I have a good rapport with the staff at the cafe; they all know what I do for a living and are always keen to discuss their pets with me – hazard of the trade!

The story was of a cat in respiratory distress, being rushed into the Veterinary After Hours Emergency Centre, where multiple tests and procedures took place with a large bill at the end and unfortunately a cat that required euthanasia. Although the owner was only marginally upset by the bill, her main issue was what she felt was a lack of compassion and empathy towards her pet and herself.

This is not the first time I have heard this from disgruntled people, in fact many of our clients cite this as one of the reasons why they decide to wait.  The two reasons I often hear as to why clients don’t seek emergency care are: a) afterhours charges are ostensibly horrendous; and b) pet owners feel there is a distinct lack of compassion shown by staff who apparently act as though their only concern is money.

I have had to use a Veterinary After Hours Emergency Centre twice over the last few years. The first time was when we came across an injured stray tomcat that had been run over. I had called ahead and in rushing the cat to the nearest centre, unfortunately my fiancé was bitten by the cat twice, so when we got to the centre both he and the cat were in distress. The nurse was most attentive to us and we felt everything went smoothly, I did not advise the staff of my profession.

The most recent visit to an After Hours Centre was with my own dog that I suspected had bloat. I was on automatic pilot when I phoned, so I started the conversation as if I was at work and identified the clinic in which I worked. Once I got to the Centre, other than a short wait because the bell wasn’t heard out the back due to an autoclave in operation, we again had no issue with the attention we received.

Ok, I guess you could argue when it came to the second visit the quality of the service was because they knew who I was. Certainly the nurse on duty did actually know who I was anyway due to the work I do with my small business specialising in environmental enrichment, but other than the vet being advised as who I was, he did not know me. I will admit I did get special treatment at discharge – the nurse allowed me to go without paying the account, but then again we weren’t sure if I would be returning during the night.

Both my experiences were positive, but is this because working in the industry I am perhaps more understanding of the whole process? I also know After Hours Emergency and Critical Care comes at a price; I also am aware of the amount of equipment that is required within these premises to provide that care, a significant investment. I realise in difficult and emotional circumstances, it is an obligation of providers to make sure pet owners make an informed decision at an often highly emotionally charged moment and they need to be made aware of possible extensive costs. Finally, I know that given the very nature of After Hours Emergency Care, it is impossible for staff to have a special ongoing relationship with pet owners similar to the relationship that owners may experience at their own veterinary clinic.

I do try to explain these conditions to people when I hear complaints about After Hours Emergency Care but it seems to fall on deaf ears.

Does anyone else have any suggestions as to how we can educate the public about the unique conditions of Afterhours Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care, so we can support all those that provide this important service not only to our clients but ourselves as well? Perhaps we should have an industry wide educational campaign?

Please tell me your ideas in the comments section below – maybe as a community we can help.

Gillian Shippen is not only a Nurse Manager, but she has also written a book: 'Pets Need a Life Too - A Guide to Enriching the Life of Your Pet - Series One: Dogs' and runs her online website 'Pets Need a Life Too' where she sells a range of enrichment toys for pets. Her aim is to "..not just to sell you products but to ensure you are purchasing the right item for you and your pet."

For more information, check out 'Pets Need a Life Too' Page in the Vetanswers Business Directory.


Michael Auld @ Nov 28th 2012 3:20pm
Sorry but I have only read your title as yet! I am amazed how grateful people are to see emergency vets. They are usually very complimentary and pay out enormous amounts of money often for relatively simple conditions. Mike
Judy @ Nov 28th 2012 3:53pm
Hi Mike, I'm gald to hear that's been your experience as it's such an important area. I hope many others agree?

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