Cat at the Vet

If your veterinarian is anything like me, she spends about 20 percent of her professional life on the telephone. That’s a lot of time! But if you think about it, it totally makes sense. After all, there are a zillion and one potential discussion points on the subject of your pet’s healthcare. In fact, I bet you can come up with at least five questions right now you’d like to ask your veterinarian over the phone.

Whoa there, now. I didn’t mean you should call this second! Indeed, the purpose of this post is to clue you in on how your veterinarian may work the phone to help you and your pet.

To that end, here are my eight most popular pet-related telephone topics:

1. The post-surgical status report. You’ve waited all morning –– maybe even all day –– to find out how your pet’s surgery went. Whether we’re talking about a simple castration or a complex mass removal, you want to know how things went. We know the waiting can be agonizing. That’s why, in most cases, your veterinarian will make every attempt to call you as soon as possible. But surgery days can be hectic, so a staff member may call you with a timely update until the veterinarian can reach you to discuss the procedure in more detail.

2. The intra-procedural Q&A. This is a super-common cause of telephone communication between veterinarian and pet owner. The best-case scenario, of course, is if you and your veterinarian discuss additional procedures that may be required before your pet is under anesthesia, such as a tooth that may need extracting during a dental cleaning, and get your consent to proceed as needed. That way, we can keep your pet’s time under anesthesia to a minimum, because we won’t need to track you down by phone during the procedure.

Without that prior consent, imagine what happens when we’re in the middle of a dental procedure and the cleaning reveals deep pockets and the need to X-ray some teeth and possibly even remove them (or offer the services of a dental specialist).

In cases like these, your veterinarian can’t very well just proceed. Unless she’s discussed this possibility ahead of time, she has to call you to secure your approval before embarking on a dramatically different course of action than you might reasonably expect. Hence, why you should ALWAYS be available for telephone consultation whenever your pet is at the vet.

3. The test result call. In my practice, this is by far the most common reason for calling pet owners –– and the most time consuming. When things turn out 100 percent fine, these can be the best kind of calls to make. Because it gives your veterinarian a chance to share the good news, applaud you for the good care you’re providing for your pet and even offer a few other suggestions for keeping your dog or cat in tiptop shape.

Of course, whenever things are amiss, your veterinarian will take the time to offer detailed explanations, suggest action plans and answer all your questions.

4. The follow-up call. Whenever I’ve got a sick patient, I’ll call my client to check on the pet’s status, then ask my client to give me a follow-up report within a certain time frame. This allows me to keep tabs on the pet’s progress. If I don’t get a call back during a reasonable period of time, I’ll call back.

This may sound like a complex little dance, but it’s all in service of making sure that pets are a) improving according to plan, b) getting the correct home care, and c) that they don’t fall between the cracks.

5. Fielding the “Is this an emergency?” call. Understandably, not every pet owner knows whether his or her pet should be seen immediately or not. But veterinarians are happy to take this call. After all, if it’s truly an emergency, we’d much rather you bring your pet in immediately, instead of waiting because you’re not sure. And if it’s not something that needs immediate attention, we’ll both feel better that you made the call anyway.

6. Pharmacy, drug company and pet food supplier calls. You’d be surprised at how much time we spend on the phone with pharmacies, drug companies and other suppliers. Do you have X drug? Could you formulate Y drug as a liquid? Can I special order a certain diet?

The reasons for these calls are endless. Maybe it’s to secure a special medication we don’t stock in our pharmacy. Or a formulation for a pet who refuses pills. Or a unique diet for an allergic cat. We even make calls to find you lower prices on drugs. It’s all in the service of providing a tailored treatment when your pet needs it.

7. Specialist and laboratory consultations. When it comes to specialists, I spend perhaps the most time on the telephone with radiologists and pathologists. These are the people who interpret the X-rays and tissues, respectively, we send them on your pet’s behalf. They’re the ones who interpret some of the toughest tests we throw at them. Which is why detailed discussions are sometimes in order.

Equally as important, surgeons, internists, neurologists, ophthalmologists, dermatologists and cardiologists are also on speed dial. These, however, are extremely busy people, so they tend to be more readily reached via email –– but not always. Every specialist is different.

8. Insurance company calls. Veterinarians are increasingly comfortable recommending pet health insurance as a way to help pet owners like you afford veterinary care. That means we have to fill out paperwork about your pet’s medical issues and send it to your insurance company to process your insurance claims.

That also means we now spend time talking to pet insurance companies whenever additional questions arise about these claims. Though it’s not an everyday –– or even every week –– thing, I predict that, as pet insurance becomes more popular, we’ll be hanging on the line a whole lot more often.

Whatever the cause, your veterinarian probably spends a lot more time on the telephone than you thought she did. Which should tell you something about the many moving parts that make up a quality healthcare system.

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