Having to wait a long time to schedule a veterinary appointment for your pet is annoying, but veterinarians across the country are overloaded at the moment. Our team at Walnut Creek Veterinary Hospital wants to explain why your wait times have been longer than usual, to help you understand our predicament.

#1: COVID-19 decreased our veterinary hospital’s efficiency

When the pandemic led to a worldwide shut down, veterinary professionals had to get creative to practice social distancing, and to disinfect their hospitals properly. They created curbside appointments, which were necessary to keep clients and staff virus free, but the process was much less efficient. Appointments took longer as veterinary technicians went back and forth between the parking lot and the treatment room, and extra time was needed between appointments so surfaces could be disinfected after each patient. On average, veterinary productivity dropped by about 25%, and seeing the normal number of pets every day was impossible. 

#2: The decreased efficiency led to a veterinary backlog

Since we couldn’t see as many pet patients as usual, we were forced to prioritize pets needing immediate care. This meant that less pressing appointments, such as vaccinations, spay and neuter procedures, and dental cleanings, were postponed to ensure our team could treat sick and injured pets. However, these appointments could not be postponed indefinitely, because wellness care is important for our pet patients’ overall health, but rescheduling these appointments led to a backlog of work, as we also continue to schedule new appointments.

#3: More veterinary appointments are being booked

The majority of pet owners view their pet as a family member, and they are taking better care of their four legged-friend. This means they are more willing to provide appropriate veterinary care for their pet, which has led to booking more veterinary appointments. In addition, when people work from home, they can better recognize when their pet is sick or hurt, which has also led to more booked appointments. The average number of appointments booked increased 4.5% from 2019 to 2020, and 6.5% between January and June 2021. These numbers mean pets are getting better veterinary care—which is wonderful—but these increases, which would be considered healthy growth in a normal year, are causing strain under the current conditions. 

#4: Veterinary hospitals are facing staffing shortages

Before the pandemic, veterinary hospitals struggled to fill staffing shortages, and COVID-19 has only exacerbated this problem. These shortages are caused by several factors.

  • Illness — Veterinary professionals couldn’t work from home during the height of the pandemic, which exposed them to the virus. Our team members are important to us, and we allowed them time to recuperate, to ensure they could fulfill their duties when they returned to work.
  • Burnout — Veterinarians spend years gaining the knowledge and experience necessary to provide proper medical care for your pet, and this extensive education often leads to a large debt load. The stress of this burden, combined with the long work hours, can result in mental and physical exhaustion. Before the pandemic, veterinary professionals were already at an increased risk of suicide compared with the general public, and the stress brought on by COVID-19 only exacerbated these issues. To mitigate their job stress, many veterinary professionals decided to work less, or changed jobs to protect their mental health.
  • Compassion fatigue — Veterinary professionals also are faced with upsetting cases on a daily basis, contributing to their workplace stress. Having to euthanize pets and comfort pet owners when delivering difficult news can take a toll, especially on someone who has chosen to devote their life to caring for animals. Many veterinary professionals experience compassion fatigue in response to this stress, and some seek other career avenues to salvage their mental health.

Pet owners can help our veterinary professionals

While our workload and staffing shortages may not be remedied in a timely fashion, you can help our veterinary professionals as we deal with these struggles. Please know that your pet’s health and wellbeing are our utmost concern, and we are doing everything in our power to ensure your pet gets seen as soon as possible. Ways you can help include:

  • Be kind and courteous — When you call to schedule an appointment or you interact with our hospital team, please realize that we are doing our best to care for as many pets as we can, with the highest level of care we can provide. Please be kind and courteous.
  • Be prepared — Try to make your pet’s appointments for routine and wellness care as far in advance as possible, to ensure their vaccines and preventive care do not lapse. Vaccines will help protect your pet from serious diseases, and wellness visits can help detect problems in the early stages before they become a veterinary emergency.
  • Be watchful — Monitor your pet closely for subtle signs that may indicate an illness or injury, so we can see them before a veterinary emergency occurs.

Our veterinary professionals are trying our best to provide the best possible care for your pet during these trying times. If you would like to schedule a wellness exam, contact our team at Walnut Creek Veterinary Hospital, and we will get them booked as soon as possible.