“General practice” veterinarians: What are your likes and dislikes?

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I was thinking about the traits I like in a vet after a friend told me about a bad visit to a new (to her) veterinarian. She was moving to the new vet because of some bad experiences at another practice, and she heard good things about this new practitioner in town. She had called the old practice and asked them to send her dogs’ records to the new practice, and had asked the new practice if they received them; it took several calls over the course of a week or so to confirm that the records had been sent and received.

All three of her dogs’ heartworm preventative prescriptions needed to be renewed; in this area, all the local veterinarians require that dogs receive an annual physical examination in order to receive a prescription for heartworm preventative. So she decided this was a good time to make the leap.

When she made the appointment, she made a point of asking for an appointment for enough time so that the veterinarian could examine all three dogs thoroughly, and perhaps answer a question or two about each. The littlest dog has crummy teeth, which she brushes regularly, but she hoped he could take a peek and say how the dog’s teeth and gums looked to him. The youngest dog has bad hips, and she wanted his opinion of their present condition (she had the dog’s X-rays sent from the other clinic). And the biggest dog suffers from seasonal allergies; she wanted to see what he thought of her management regime and the condition of the dog’s skin.

She waited for an hour past the appointment time in the waiting room. No one explained why.

When she was finally shown into an exam room with her dogs, the veterinary technician apologized for keeping her waiting (finally), although my friend had to ask, “Did you guys have an emergency case come in or something?” (because no explanation for the lateness was offered). Yes, she was told, we had an emergency, and the doctor is the only one here. Having a bad feeling about how this visit might go, especially since she was hoping for (and had called to request) a long introductory visit, to establish these dogs and their various conditions to the person who would become their primary physician, she asked, “Would it be best if I made this appointment for another day?” But the tech said, “No, really, it will be okay. The doctor will be right in.” The tech took all three dogs’ temperatures, and excused herself.

And then she sat in the room for another 25 minutes.

Then the door opened. The vet came in with the dogs’ charts in his hand. According to my friend, he neither introduced himself nor apologized for his lateness. He didn’t say anything (or ask any questions) as he briefly examined each dog, so my friend tried to narrate and ask questions. “How do her teeth look? I brush them daily, trying to prevent the need for more extractions . . . How do her hips seem to you? How does her skin look to you? She has allergies . . .” But she said each time she mentioned something that was going on with the dog, he said something like, “Oh?” He clearly hadn’t had a chance to look at any of the dogs’ charts.

After the very perfunctory exams, my friend says the doctor mentioned a special antifungal shampoo and a supplement for the dog with allergies, and a new pain medication for the dog with the bad hips . . . and then left the room, looking down at the charts. A few minutes later, the tech came in and said, “You can go, I’ll bring the shampoo and stuff to you up front.” “Oh!” my friend thought. “I guess I’m done with the vet, then!” No goodbye nor nice to meet you, and thanks for answering hardly any of my questions!

Lateness happens, especially when there are emergencies, but the situation really ought to be explained to the clients waiting, and after an hour or more, an offer really should be made to reschedule, especially this sort of visit, which wasn’t pressing. And in my book, there is just no excuse for a medical practitioner of any kind failing to introduce himself when he enters the exam room! And I would not be inclined to return to any practice where the doctor, for whatever reasons, failed to communicate well or engage with me about the animal that brought us together. These things really irritated my friend, and they would really bug me, too.

What things are most important to you in a primary care vet? What things would make you look elsewhere?

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