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5 Ways the COVID19 Pandemic May Affect Access to Veterinary Care

I wrote 5 articles for a major veterinary organization in 4 days about the ways veterinarians must adapt to the reality of COVID19 pandemic. Based on the interviews and research I did for those articles, here are 5 ways the COVID19 pandemic may affect access to veterinary care for your pets. 

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COVID19 Pandemic May Affect Access to Veterinary Care

#1 You cannot go inside the veterinary hospital or clinic.

To limit potential exposure to the COVID19 virus, many veterinary hospitals currently do NOT allow clients inside the facility. Calling it curb-side or concierge service, appointments for pets typically go like this:

  1. You call from the parking lot when you arrive. 
  2. You give any relevant medical history or information to the staffer on the phone.
  3. A staff member will come get your pet and go back inside. 
  4. The veterinarian will call you to discuss any findings or recommendations. 
  5. You provide payment information over the phone or give it to the staffer who returns your pet.

#2 You may not be able to be with your pet in critical or euthanasia situations. 

Some veterinarians are making exceptions and letting people come inside for critical cases or situations where euthanasia is needed, but some are not. Some have come up with solutions such as:

  • Sedating pets needing euthanasia in the car, where people can say their goodbyes, then taking the pets inside the facility for the final injection. 
  • Doing euthanasia appointments outside in more open areas, as weather allows, and maintaining proper distances from people. For example, you may need to step back while the veterinarian and staff members do their work, then when they step back, you can cuddle with your beloved.
  • Letting people who may be sick or have been exposed to the COVID19 virus watch the procedure through a window.

#3 You may only have access to onsite veterinary care for sick / injured / urgent / emergency situations -- not routine stuff. 

In many cases the shelter-in-place orders in various communities specifically limit which services veterinarians may provide during the pandemic. For example, many states have halted all routine or elective care and surgeries, including spay/neuter surgeries. Most wellness care is also on hold, unless it can be done via telemedicine. However, in cases where puppies and kittens need to stay on the vaccination schedule, then those appointments may be allowed. 

This is definitely NOT the time to be asking for nail trims or other small routine services. 

But, if your pet gets sick or injured or is in the middle of ongoing treatment, then you likely still can get an appointment. As noted in #1, though, you'll have to stay outside. 

#4 Your veterinarian may be working shorter hours to limit exposure, allow more time for disinfection protocols, and provide much-needed breaks for caregivers.

Many veterinary hospitals have shortened their hours each day and even closed on days they would normally be open, such as weekends. Typically, they will let you know where you can see urgent or emergency care when they are closed. 

Definitely find out before you need to know how the COVID19 pandemic may affect access to veterinary care.

#5 Your veterinary hospital may be forced to close. 

There are 2 reasons a veterinary hospital may be forced to close during the pandemic:

1. The state does not deem them as essential business when states or communities go on lock-down. Some states have named veterinary services as essential. Some have not (yet) or have not. There is a Change.org petition, for example, where people are demanding that Ontario include veterinarians as essential.

Details about what has been deemed essential in your community are typically found in the executive orders from the governor, but you may have to dig around or search online for essential business list in your state. 

However, even if a state or province names veterinary services as essential, individual hospitals can close at their own discretion.

2. If someone on the veterinary hospital staff becomes sick or tests positive for COVID19, then the health department can require the hospital to close. This happened at the veterinary teaching hospital at the University of Wisconsin.

Please take this all in stride.

Veterinary teams are putting themselves at risk to continue working, and it's incredibly stressful to keeping doing all the amazing things they do while the pandemic is ongoing. They are having to adapt on the fly as conditions in each community change, so please go with the flow the best you can. Show your appreciation from a safe distance. #NoBitching

Please keep yourself and your pets safe.

Our county's shelter-in-place order goes into effect March 26, 2020. It sounds scarier than it really is. We can still go get groceries or prescriptions or walk the dogs (as long as we maintain good distances from other people on our walks). 

On a recent walk on our rural road, however, I saw 2 loose big dogs running around with no apparent family in sight. I was not going to risk me or Tori or Stix getting hurt, so we turned around and came home before the loose dogs saw us. 

I was pissed because taking long, brisk walks with the dogs is one of the things helping me keep my anxiety about the COVID19 virus from exploding. But, with the pressures on human hospitals and animal hospitals, it's better NOT to need them right now.

I walked laps of our back pasture while the dogs played. It isn't the same, but it was better than not walking that day. 

Anything I missed?

If there are any other ways the COVID19 pandemic may affect access to veterinary care that you've personally experienced, let me know in the comments. 

Stay home. Stay safe. Stay healthy. 

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

Aca Baranton - May 20, 2020

You are absolutely correct. Covid18 has changed how businesses especially vets would function. In our vet hospital, In order to reduce exposure to humans, we are not allowing pet owners into the hospital. When they arrive in our parking lot, they are requested to call our office and a staff member will take the information over the phone and then come out to escort the pet into the hospital. Examinations will be performed while pet owners wait safely in their vehicle, and most, if not all, communications will be accomplished via phone, discharge paperwork, and e-mail.
Aca Baranton recently posted..Managing your Pet’s Thunderstorm and Noise PhobiasMy Profile

James Uba - April 6, 2020

At the time Corona crisis people where helping each other and show humanity still alive between us. Thank you People contributing great at this difficult time.

Steph - March 28, 2020

We had to take our dog to the vet yesterday. Then had to go to vet hospital. All was done from the car. Except when we had to make the last goodbyes, the hospital let us come in and stay with him. I know they probably had the right to say no, but they didn’t and for that I am forever grateful.

    Roxanne Hawn - March 30, 2020

    I’m so very sorry for your loss, Steph. I’m glad you were able to be inside the hospital with your dog.

Suzanne Cannon - March 26, 2020

There is another way that COVID is impacting access to veterinary care, and that is financially.

While the financial consequences of this pandemic will be greatest among the working poor and those living in poverty, even middle-class families will suffer from loss of income and no paid time off from work.

Veterinary practices will encounter a growing number of pet parents who need help paying for services over the next several months. Under ordinary circumstances, about 40% of those pet parents can turn to third-party financing products for help — such as CareCredit®.

But the circumstances we are facing are far from ordinary.

Because many individuals will suffer a shortfall in income, they will be forced to use existing credit to manage household expenses – resulting in less available credit for veterinary care.

As individuals become more highly leveraged, rising credit utilization ratios will negatively impact FICO (credit) scores. As a result, veterinary practices will see more credit declines than usual.

While there are charitable organizations that offer grants for veterinary care, their resources will be stretched thin as they face an increased demand for services coupled with a drop in donations.

As the need for financial assistance quickly outpaces available funds, veterinary charities simply won’t be able to pick up all the slack.

A timely and practical alternative might be for veterinarians to offer in-house payment plans to help financially strapped pet parents, even if it’s just for the duration of the current crisis.

With advances in financial technology, there are a number of companies now that allow veterinarians to outsource the management of payment plans. Payments are set up as automatic drafts, and because they take place monthly, pet parents get some financial relief because they can spread costs over time.

    Roxanne Hawn - March 27, 2020

    Yeah, financial concerns too. Not just for clients, but also for the practices themselves. Much like restaurants and other small businesses, this could be enough of a financial hit that some practices will close and not reopen … which affects access as well.

Paula Haile - March 26, 2020

Great info! People are not following diections here, we don’t even go out to walk, little kids in the street because no school, they have big yards, wish they would stay to themselves, parents could care less. Our governor has not issued stay in place so far, assuming he’s waiting until it’s really bad, too late then. Hope you and yours all stay well.

    Roxanne Hawn - March 26, 2020

    I’m sorry to hear people in your area aren’t taking it seriously, Paula. It’s hard to tell in our remote location what’s going on, but I do see more people out walking on the road. So far, though, everyone keeps their distance if passing others. This morning there were maybe not quite as many cars, but still quite a few. I’m glad our whole state is on lockdown now, not just our county. It should help a lot, if people truly stay home.

Nora L Hensley - March 26, 2020

Thanks for another great article Roxanne! This was really informative at a hard time for people during a whole new experience for most. Take care.

    Roxanne Hawn - March 26, 2020

    You are so welcome, Nora. We’re all fine here so far. Hope you are too.

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