While the veterinary industry has been in a tough place since before COVID-19 struck, the protective measures and other issues created by the pandemic have bogged down our profession. Multiple factors have coalesced into a perfect storm that is preventing us from helping as many pets as we would like, and leading to long wait times for pet owners. So, the next time you pick up the phone to schedule an appointment for your four-legged friend, take a moment to remember why they cannot be seen immediately. Please be kind to your veterinary team. Here are five reasons why veterinary practices are struggling to keep up with the demand for pet care.
#1: A nationwide veterinary staffing shortage
Before the pandemic struck, veterinary staffing was short nationwide, and the shortage has become worse. The veterinary profession is no longer as appealing, because of escalating levels of burnout and compassion fatigue. The extreme emotional and physical toll veterinary medicine takes on its professionals also contributes to one of the highest suicide rates across all professions. Low pay, long hours, difficult patients and clients, and emotionally, physically, and mentally demanding work has removed the industry’s rose-colored glasses. The average length of a veterinary technician’s career is only five years before they leave the field in search of greener and mentally healthier pastures.
Veterinary practices are desperate to find employees to fill their empty kennel assistant, technician, receptionist, and veterinarian positions, and are offering sign-on bonuses, livable wages, and other appealing benefits. However, simply too few professionals in the field can meet the demand, which means fewer pets are treated.
#2: Medical supplies in short supply and on back order
We all have experienced the fear of running out of toilet paper during the pandemic, but imagine a veterinary practice running out of vital supplies, like pain medications, gloves, surgical masks, anesthetic drugs, catheters, prescription diets, and countless other odds and ends. Supply chain issues have caused shortages of many critical supplies, which make providing pets with the necessary care extremely difficult.
#3: Protective pandemic measures that slow down veterinary teams
To keep clients, staff, pets, and the community safe, extensive disinfecting and social distancing measures were put in place. Team members are still pulled away from their normal duties to clean more frequently, and curbside care protocols greatly slowed the entire appointment process. Your typical wellness appointment that took only half an hour pre-pandemic, now can take an hour or more. And, if your pet needs to be seen at an emergency hospital, you may be waiting all night, or shunted to another facility that has enough staff, supplies, and openings to care for your pet.
According to data from the AVMA Census of Veterinarians and Veterinary Practice Owners, veterinarians saw fewer patients per hour and average productivity declined by almost 25% in 2020, compared with 2019. This means that a veterinarian who typically saw four patients an hour now sees only three. Over the course of an eight-hour day, this means eight fewer patients seen each day. Multiply that figure nationwide for each veterinarian, and you can see why scheduling an appointment for your pet is so difficult.
#4: Pet owners who spend more time with their pets
During quarantine and lockdown, people spent more time at home, playing with, grooming, and generally paying more attention to their pets. Because of this increased attention, owners noticed more problems that needed veterinary care. Lumps that wouldn’t normally be noticed until they were larger became an urgent issue, a limp that occurred because of excessive exercise needed treatment, and a toxicity case because of those home arts and crafts projects required emergency treatment. Owners noticed their pet’s small behavioral changes because they were bored in the daily lockdown, which led to an increased need for veterinary appointments.
#5: Veterinary teams struggling to catch up with patient care
Veterinary practices were among the many businesses that shut down during the height of the pandemic. After being closed for weeks or months, they were faced with an overwhelming surge in demand for patient care. Pets needed their standard wellness care, while emergency situations needed to be seen immediately. Trying to fit in every patient who required care was impossible with staffing, supply, and time shortages. Veterinarians are still attempting to administer wellness care to pets who should have been seen when hospitals were shut down.
The veterinary industry sincerely wishes to catch back up, but reports from experts say that is unlikely, at least during the near future. To help ensure your pet receives the care they need, when they need it, schedule wellness care far in advance and monitor them carefully, calling for an appointment before an issue becomes a serious problem.
If you know your pet is due soon for their wellness visit and vaccinations, call our Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital team now to schedule their appointment.