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Veterinary Corner

Saturday Night is Not the Time to Find a New Vet

Dr. Kimberly Brokaw, DVM


Dr. Kim Brokaw and her horse Bart

Clients and veterinarians have expectations of each other. Unfortunately, what the client expects from the vet and what the vet expects from the client are often not the same. These differing expectations often cause conflict when tensions are high in an emergency call.

When you are out of town, give the people who are caring for your horse a written authorization form you that allows them to call your vet and gives them the name and phone number of your vet. I donít want to get a call from someone who says he is taking care of Jane Doeís horse and needs a vet for Spot because he is colicky. If I am not the usual vet for Jane Doeís horse and I donít have Jane Doeís permission to come and treat her horse for colic, then I wonít be coming out to treat Spot.

My next expectation for clients is that they become clients before they have an emergency. While it is true that at 11:30 at night I would rather be sleeping, I do still want to help your horse and will happily come to your farm if you need me and I know you. However, if you are an unknown client, the reason I refuse to come to your farm is not because I donít want to help your horse, but it is because I donít want to take care of horses and not get paid, I donít want to unwittingly feed someoneís drug habit, and I donít want to put my personal safety at risk. When you call with an emergency, be ready to give information that helps me verify your identity. It is helpful if you call on a phone that shows caller ID with your name. If you can tell me your animalís name and when we last saw him or her, I feel more confident that I am actually talking with a known client. One local vet practice insists on a credit card number so they know they will be paid and that the person is a known client. No veterinarian wants to put himself or herself at risk.

The below are a couple of true accounts (the names have been changed) that hopefully give insight into why a vet may (and should) refuse to come to your barn late at night if they have never been there before. All of these situations occurred at practices located within 50 miles of Frederick, MD.

Call 1 - A page is received from the answering service Saturday afternoon. "Bob" (who refuses to give his last name nor an address more specific than route 26) wants you to fill some prescription pain drugs for his dog Lacey.

Call 2 - Sunday night a page is received from Mike F. His horse has injured its leg badly and he needs a vet now. He provides an address and phone number to the answering service, but canít remember the name of the horse. When called on the phone number he provided, he doesnít answer. There is caller ID but he doesnít answer a call to that number either.

Call 3 - Bill F is calling because his horse is colicing and he needs a vet. A phone number and address are provided.

Call 4 - A page is received Friday evening. Laura L has a horse with an infected wound. She doesnít know her address but does provide a phone number and name of her horse.

While all of those pages may seem basically the same, the outcomes are very different. The first call ends with the vet phoning the answering service and telling them to call "Bob" and let him know that if he is neither willing to provide a last name nor address, then a vet will not be coming or prescribing pain medication by phone. He doesnít provide more information. Later it is discovered that he called from a phone inside a CVS. No personal information was ever received on "Bob". Most likely he was seeking drugs for his drug habit, and there is no sick dog.

In the second call, while Mike canít be reached on a phone, he provided enough information that the vet knew who he was and recognized the farm. She arrived at his barn and treated the horse appropriately for a severe injury. He apologized that he didnít answer the phone but he called from the office and then went and stood in the barn with the horse to wait for the vet. He says next time he will give the cell number rather than the office. In most situations, the veterinarian would not have gone out on the call and Mike would have been left without a veterinarian. When you call the answering service and leave your phone number, you need to make sure someone will answer the phone when the veterinarian calls back to get details about the animal and details about the emergency.

In call number 3, received by an upscale practice in a wealthy community south of Frederick, the vet did not recognize the client, but assumed that, as she worked in a multi-doctor practice, that he was a client. When she arrived at the farm two guys held her down and attempted to sexually assault her. The incident frightened her so much that she quit her job and left the area. While the assailants were identified, they were never arrested.

The fourth call started with the vet returning Lauraís call and informing her that as she is not an established client, clinic policy is not to go to her farm. She said that her friend is a client and put her on the phone as a reference. The friend was asked to provide her name as well as the phone that would be on record with the clinic. Unfortunately the friend didnít remember her phone number. The vet said she was sorry but that she would not be coming to the farm. Laura proceeded to scream at the vet and say that if the vet truly cared about animals she would come. The vet repeated that she would not go on the call, but provided her with the phone numbers of other veterinarians who are closer to her location. Laura replied that the closest veterinary practice to her location would not come because she owed them a lot of money.

One of the things I tell my clients is that if they are moving, it is important to find a vet before moving the horses. While no one wants their horse to colic while traveling, it does happen and the situation only gets worse when you canít get a vet to come and treat him. Some clinics will just ask for a credit card number and assume that if a number is provided, then it is a real client. However, stolen credit cards have been used to purchase veterinary supplies so more clinics are also ensuring that someone is an established client before providing emergency care. Because of this it is important to become an established client before you have an emergency.

Before you move, call the vet that you think you will be using at your new home. If you donít like the vet, you can always change vets later. Call the vet and tell them that you will be moving your horses to the area and wanted to give them your name, address, phone number, and the names of your horses so that you could get it entered in their computer system. The important part is to make sure they enter it in the computer so that if you call at 11:30 at night and the main office is closed, they can verify your information electronically on their laptop. After your horses have arrived at the farm, it is even better if you set up a routine appointment for the vet to come and meet the horses. If the horses arenít due for any vaccines, get a coggins test or a quick physical exam. As a vet, I know that I find it reassuring when I look up a client who I do not recognize, and in addition to seeing that the phone number and address they provided to the answering service matches what I have in my computer, they have also had a recent financial transaction with the clinic; preferably with the bill having been paid.

Emergencies are stressful enough without worrying about whether or not you will have access to a vet, and without the veterinarian worrying about whether or not he or she will be able to safely provide optimal care. A little advanced preparation can make everything run more smoothly.

Dr. Brokaw practices her love of caring for animals at Walkersville Veterinary Clinic

Read other articles by Dr. Kim Brokaw