Responsible pet ownership dictates that at some point, you will have to take your pet to the vet's office. Much like the doctor's office, some people may find this an intimidating experience. Others may be unaware of proper protocol. Still others are just completely useless members of society and ignore every social dictate in order to annoy the hell out of everyone they come in to contact with in every possible public scenario. You don't want to be any of those people. You want to be the well-liked regular that never forces the staff to make snide comments behind your back. You want to be greeted by your first name and asked about how your pet has been since his or her last visit. You want to own the pet that every staffer is excited to see and stops what they are doing to coo over and play with. You want to be the pet owner that gets kickbacks and rewards after every visit. Fortunately for you, this is not an unreachable goal. We want you to be that person as much as you want to be that person. And so, I give to you, a veterinary technician's guide to not being the biggest prat in the clinic.
Make an appointment.
It might be the case that a certain procedure, such as nail clipping or a vaccine booster, doesn't require an appointment. In that case, the receptionist can suggest a time for you to stop by for a technician to perform the needed maneuvers so you can be on your way. It's always adviseable to let us know you're on your way, just so we can be prepared and get you out in a timely fashion.
When examining your appointment time options, it is a wise idea to inform the receptionist if you would prefer a certain doctor. In multi-vet practices, different doctors often have different daily schedules. If you don't care, just pick a time that works for you. But if seeing Dr. McNabb is important to you because he's been seeing Pickles since he was a wee pup, you need to let the receptionist know so that he or she can tell you when the good doctor is available.
DO NOT make your appointment directly before another appointment that you must attend. If you have schedule an appointment at 3:00 and have to pick up your child at 3:30, don't be surprised if your child is forced to walk home. Our schedule can get thrown off, just like in any other office. We can't pull all of our doctors out of other appointments or put you ahead of people who also have appointments merely because you have inconvenienced yourself.
If you fear your dog is truly sick, don't schedule your appointment at the last possible time of the day. It's not fair to us or to your pet to think that a veterinarian can solve any problem using only a stethescope and a fecal sample in only 10 minutes. We may need to draw blood. We may need to do x-rays. We won't know what needs to be done or how long that will take until we examine your pet, even with your most accurate description of your pet's ailments.
The receptionist will ask you why you have decided to make an appointment. Be specific. If you've been paying attention to your pets the way you should, you will know how long they have been itching, if they have any major wounds and where those wounds are, or any other number of factors. Be specific. The receptionist may note something in your description that tells them that you need to be blocked for a longer period of time, or earlier in the day to accommodate different tests. It saves everyone in the clinic time if they know what to be prepared for. If there is something particular you want addressed, alert the receptionist. It makes everyone in the office's job that much easier when you arrive.
This is a good time to ask about pricing. Based on what he or she thinks the doctor will need to do for a pet with a particular symptom complex, the receptionist may be able to provide a general idea of possible pricing. Determine if your pet is worth this kind of money to you, or if you can part with that amount of money. This may also allow you to shop around and decide if another clinic with lower prices may be a better option for you. Unless you've been a client for 30 years, it's unlikely most clinics are going to allow you to pay at a later date. Factor this in to your plans.
- Veterinarians are medical professionals, operating on a schedule just like a “real” doctor. It's important for you to recognize this when you decide that your pet requires medical service. Most vet clinics will require an appointment for service, because contrary to popular belief, our day does not revolve solely around your pet. We do, in fact, serve many clients with many different pets and we must accommodate everyone's needs every day. It's true that some clinics welcome walk-ins. Some allow walk-ins on certain days. All you have to do to find out is call. Look up the number in your Rolodex, your phone book, or your vaccine records, and simply dial the number. A receptionist will set you up with an appointment that best fits your schedule. If there isn't one available, we'll do our best to find the best time for you, suggest an alternate strategy, or give you helpful hints for showing up during walk-in hours.
- Do not assume that this price is going to be your final price. Things change, procedures get added in, and you may need to get a prescription or some other product. Unless you are only coming in for one thing- such as a rabies shot or a toe nail trim- do not expect that the price for a visit will be completely static. Even in these situations, problems can crop up that were completely unforseeable at the time of the estimate. That's why we call it an estimate. The receptionists don't have the final say on charges, and stubbornly holding him or her to what she suggested on the phone without realizing this dynamic pricing is unfair
Do not ask us to make a diagnosis over the phone. I've found that most of the receptionists working in hospitals are probably more than qualified to take a stab at what is wrong with your pet, but that does not mean that he or she will be correct. We do not have time to pull a doctor out of an office to discuss symptoms and possible illnesses with you over the phone. Besides that fact, even very characteristic-sounding symptoms may be misleading. We simply cannot provide a diagnosis without seeing the pet. If it is concerning you enough that you are calling to ask for advice, it's in everyone's best interest for you to go ahead and bite the bullet, finalize the appointment, and come in to see us. That way, we can ensure that the very best care is given to your pet, with no regrets on anyone's part.
Once the details of the appointment are recorded, there are a few other pieces of information we will require to render effective service. If you have special needs and require assistance getting your pet into or out of the clinic from your vehicle, alert the receptionist. If your pet is in any way aggressive, alert the receptionist IMMEDIATELY. We cannot control a potentially dangerous situation if we do not know about it. It is completely unjustifiable to not inform us that your dog might have, perhaps, nipped at his previous veterinarian during an examination, or that Savannah Belle does not like having her feet touched, or that Poofers does not get along well with other dogs. We are not playing games. We understand that this is a dangerous profession with a risk of injury due to the type patients we are treating. However, if you can prevent us from having to go get another rabies booster, set of sutures, or cold compress, it is absolutely in your (and our) best interest to do so. To do otherwise because you are embarassed or over-protective is utterly, unforgiveably negligent.
Do not bring spare animals or animals other than those for which you scheduled the appointment. If you need to bring multiple animals, specify that to the receptionist so he or she can set aside a longer block of time for you to ensure that the doctor can see everyone in a timely manner.
If you need to change an appointment's time, reschedule it, or need to cancel, do so before you get here. Don't simply not show up- we can often reuse that appointment slot to get in another patient who may be in great need.
Special case- If you have an emergency, it's advisable to call ahead to let us know that you are on the way. This isn't making an appointment- we will take you without setting aside a specific time slot. However, calling ahead allows us to be prepared to make the space and time necessary for caring for your pet, as well as assemble the staff and equipment necessary to deal with an emergency situation. It allows us to inform other owners so they can prepare for a longer wait or reschedule. If this is not feasible, come in as quickly as you can and we will take care of you. If it is close to the end of the day, it will be better for you to go straight to an emergency hospital. Very few general practice clinics are open late at night, or have available staff to watch over a critically ill or injured pet. We may not have the equipment necessary to perform the services you need, because we are not a full-time emergency service. You are only wasting valuable time if you show up at 5:30 when we close at 6. Go directly to the people who can best help you. If that's not an immediate option and you decide to come to us, please do not become upset when we recommend you transfer to another clinic after we stabilize your pet. If you decide not to do this, you're taking your pet's life in your hands. Don't be mad at us if Spooky does not last the night. We did what we could and told you how you could help.
Show up on time.
If you are going to be late due to something beyond your control, such as traffic, construction, or a monsoon, please call us. We can sometimes shift appointments or otherwise alter our schedule to accommodate this. We will not hate you if this is your scenario. We will hate you if you simply do not care. We will hate you if you're late due to your own insufficient ability to plan and organize. If you can't catch your cat until 5 minutes before appointment time, that's not our problem. It's yours. And quite frankly, I think it's a little rude.
- While we realize that our livelihood depends on client business, that is not an excuse to abuse our patience. To put it in very simple terms, we will hate you if you show up late. At least in my office, we were not allowed to turn away clients who showed up 20 minutes deep into their 30 minute appointment slot. Not only does this throw off our schedule, it automatically turns the vet techs and veterinarians against you. We have other things to do that may be more important than looking at your precious Buffy's itchy skin, but they must be postponed when you oh-so-graciously decide to turn up. This is extremely frustrating for us, as well as for the other appointments who must now wait longer because you have unceremoniously extended your stay into their allotted time. You have proven to us that you are not taking this appointment seriously. You have shown us that you have no consideration for us or for other patients. Why, now, should we take you seriously, or show you anything other than perfunctory consideration? I'm not saying we're going to beat your pet in the back room. I am saying it is painfully difficult to show empathy to a squirmy pet when we are angry at the owner.
Control your damn animal.
On the same note, please keep your larger pet on a leash. It does not matter if Jake heels well and always comes when you call. It does not matter if he is completely non-aggressive. We cannot guarantee that everyone else's pet will behave as well as your pet will. Dog fights are dangerous, and all too real a possibility. Don't put your pet, yourself, or the staff in harm's way. Leash laws apply to puppies, too. Just because they are painfully adorable doesn't mean that they won't get in trouble, get in the way, or cause other varying degrees of havoc.
Do not allow your pet to nose up to another pet. Again, dog fights are scary scenarios. You might think it's very cute to let your dog 'be friends' with someone else's. It's not nearly as cute when we have to stitch his ear and your finger back on. Also, keep in mind that many pets in the waiting room are not feeling well. Letting your pet get up in another pet's face is like asking that pet to infect yours with whatever nastiness he or she is suffering. You don't want to put your pet through that, right?
Children are animals too. If we could keep baby leashes around the way we keep dog leashes around, I think a lot of problems would be solved. But we can't, and so we must rely on you. Don't let your child run around the waiting room. DO NOT let your child run up and touch an animal without permission from that animal's owner and direct supervision. Don't let your child scream, yell, or jump on the furniture. Please make sure your child stays with you at all times, so we do not open an exam room door and find the monster playing with an uncapped syringe, or sitting in our break room attempting to 'pet' the animals we are keeping under quarantine for possible rabies infection. We are a professional organization and we don't have the time, energy, or insurance deductibles to deal with poor parenting. If you can't control the kids, leave them at home. We are a hospital, not a babysitting service.
- If you have a cat, rat, bird, lizard, or otherwise small and easily confineable animal, you have absolutely no excuse to not confine it. No cat carrier? Put it in a laundry basket. Roll 'er up in a towel. Do not just sit with your pet on your lap. This can cause undue stress to you, your pet, and everyone else in the waiting room. Remember that the vet's office is a very foreign experience and many animals associate it with bad memories or frightening experiences. Your pet may be the most social and loving creature in the world. That does not mean Tippers will not get spooked and hurt herself, you, or another waiting room resident, end up outside, or get trapped on top of a rather large and dusty set of cages. It's happened before without need and it will happen again if you assume that just because your pet is well-behaved at home, he or she will be well-behaved abroad.
If you see a patient who arrived after you enter a room before you do, please try not to pitch a fit. It's possible their appointment time was earlier than yours and they arrived late. If that's the case, we often must put them in the room first. It's just policy, and we will get in trouble if we allow them to wait simply because they were completely inconsiderate. It's also possible that we suspect their pet has a particularly infectious disease. We are trying to protect your pet from possible infection. Don't hate us for doing our job.
- Even if you get an appointment and show up on time, we cannot always guarantee that you will get in to the room right on your arrival. Unfortunately, we cannot control what is going to happen on any given day. We may be facing an emergency, a shortage of supplies, or a particularly cantankerous animal or stubborn diagnosis. This is one of the reasons it's so important for you to show up on time.
- After about 15 minutes after your appointment time, it's probably reasonable to ask if there is anything in particular keeping you waiting. Generally, the staff will inform you anyway. If you have some pressing issue that you must attend to, or simply do not feel like waiting, ask if you can reschedule. We will be very happy to accommodate you. We don't like making you wait. We actually feel pretty awful about it. Sometimes, we just can't do anything about it.
Be kind to your vet techs. They control most of the needles.
There's a fair chance we'll be in trouble by the veterinarians if we show up with a chart devoid of information. We are trying to make everything run as smoothly as possible. When we ask you about symptoms, how long they've persisted, and concerns that you have, we are establishing what sort of equipment will be needed by the veterinarian. We are mentally preparing to get all the tests, accessories, and assistants necessary to care for your pet. Without this information, we get bogged down and ruin what could otherwise be an efficient and painless procedure.
If you have a specific request, we can relate that to the doctor so he or she can start addressing it the moment they enter the room. We can often provide the same information about a procedure that a doctor can. In the case of something like a blood test associated with an annual exam, allowing us to talk to you about it can save us valuable time so we don't have to redraw blood from your pet multiple times, after you finally decide that it's what you want. We can also provide you with basic understanding of certain procedure options so that you can then intelligently discuss those options with the doctor. We are not your enemy, and we are not just the peon underlings. We are an untapped encyclopedia of information that can help you look like you know what the hell you're talking about and get the ball rolling so you can get to your yoga class early.
Besides. Vet techs are the ones doing the behind-the-scenes work on Nutters. Do you really want to denigrate the person who's going to be sticking a hypodermic needle in your precious baby's jugular? Didn't think so.
- Generally, a vet tech or veterinary assistant will be the one to show you into an exam room. We will take all the vitals information and clinical history for your ailing pet. This includes weight, temperature, and discerning the reason for your visit. Do not be rude to your vet techs. Just because we're not veterinarians doesn't mean we're uneducated and don't understand anything about animal health. Many of us are certified in multiple areas of care, have years of experience, and/or are licensed professionals. This is no easy feat, and it's unfair to treat us like idiots or refuse to speak to us about your pet's condition just because we don't have a DVM on our name tag.
Listen to the vet.
By all means, if you don't like what they're saying, go to another vet and get a second opinion. But if your vet suggests a certain procedure, a specialist, or a specific dose of medicine, don't second-guess them yourself. Don't suggest that they are simply trying to gouge you for money. Don't suggest that they don't know what they are doing. If you truly believe any of these things, you should leave immediately and bring your pet to another doctor. It is important for you to be comfortable enough with your pet's doctor that it never reaches this scenario. But if you asked for the doctor's opinion, listen to it. That DVM means “doctor of veterinary medicine”, and they are doing what they feel is best to help you and your pet.
Little known fact- the doctor is the one who controls your bill. Depending on how well-trained your pet is and how you treat the staff of the hospital, they can extend little courtesies your way. This may include not charging for the cost of a nail trim or anal gland expression, or only charging you a short office visit instead of the normal price. It may come in the form of treats for the pet, or a free sample of some product. The easier you make it on the doctor, the easier the doctor can make it on you, so try to be on your best behavior, and keep your pet on his or hers. Please note- I'm not saying that a doctor will inflate your prices if you are a bad client. They will only charge you what you owe them. However, they will not do you any favors. This is where the price discrepancy comes in.
If your doctor prescribes a medication or treatment, find out everything you can about it before you leave. Take notes. Ask the doctor if a medication is available over the counter to save money. Make sure you understand every facet of the treatment or medication instructions. Do you know how long to apply the salve? Do you know how many times a day to give the pill? Do you know what to do in the event of a reaction or other emergency? If you don't, ask. Then write it down. Then repeat it back to the doctor. Making sure you understand now will save you the time and hassle of calling back up, coming back to the clinic, or worse, ending up in an emergency clinic.
- No matter what the vet looks like, he or she has the experience necessary to treat your pet. Vets aren't just social degenerates who got a land lease and opened up a practice- they get certified after years of extensive schooling. It's true that they will gain experience as the years go on, but don't automatically dismiss their advice just because they look young or, god forbid, are female. Of course, if you're engaging in misogynistic behavior, you've probably already failed at being the type of person to get your pet to this stage of the process. At any rate, your vet generally knows what they are talking about.
Be prepared to pay.
- Payment should be made when services are rendered. Most clinics are not going to be sending you a bill in the mail. This is extremely difficult for us to keep up with, and often ends in an abuse of our trust. You don't buy your groceries and then expect to receive a statement, right? So don't get mad when we ask you to pay on your way out. We are not going to make an exception for you unless we know you very well and trust you to pay us every red cent you owe us. We probably have a sign up that says that we'll be asking for your money on the way out the door. If you didn't ask about this when you set up your appointment, or you think you're not going to have enough money to cover the cost of your treatment, you should have left when you read the sign.
- By all means, read over your bill. It's important for us to have accurate billing. We don't want to charge you too much. However, do not haggle with receptionists over the price of a procedure. They don't set the prices, they merely check you out based on what the doctor has said. If you honestly believe that there is a problem with the bill, such as a misunderstanding about the price of a procedure, being charged for a procedure which was not performed, or some other issue, please ask politely to talk to the doctor. This may be something that can be addressed and taken care of with a minimum of confrontation. Do not tell us that the price of your prescription is too high. There is nothing we can do about this, and it's not our fault. We face the same problems when we buy medication for our own pets.
- If you need to buy other products, such as heartworm medication or flea control products, please tell us before we check you out. If you need to pay partially in cash and partially on a credit card, please tell us before we start the transaction. It makes everything easier, and gets you out the door with your pet as quickly as possible.
If anything at all changes with the status of your pet, call us. If you have questions that you forgot to get addressed while you were speaking with the veterinarian, call us. If you need to make another appointment because you don't think everything is going as well as it should be, call us. We want to hear from you. We want to make things right. And we'll never be able to if you don't let us know what we need to do to serve you as best we can.
If you keep all these factors in mind while in the clinic, things will always run smoothly and pleasantly. It will help you remain calm in the face of our foibles. It will help us remain calm while dealing with your concerns. And it might just save you time, money, and the sneaking feeling that as soon as the door closes, everybody that works in the office is talking behind your back. Because trust me- if you can't follow these simple steps, everyone will.