The pandemic has really changed the nature of the game. The practice of veterinary medicine is contingent upon clear channels of communication between the people responsible for patient health: pet owners and veterinary staff. Pet owners, at least those who come to our hospital, are not actually allowed in the building due to our COVID protocols, and due to a recent spike in cases in our neighborhood (and even within our walls), we have further precautions to reduce unnecessary foot traffic and instituted the policy of taking clinical histories, discussing exam findings, and diagnostic and therapeutic recommendations largely over the phone. While this does not play out one hundred percent of the time, it is the ideal operating procedure given the current state of affairs.
However, I find that a lot is lost without face-to-face conversations. On top of the fact that invariably there are distractions such an ambulance siren blaring in the background or a rowdy dog barking waiting to come into the clinic, which already muddies the communication channel in its own right, normal aspects of conversations are obscured by owners’ patience, which is severely tested by waiting on the sidewalk in sub-freezing conditions. God bless them! I have tried to inject fun questions and some small talk into what sometimes feels like a laundry list of concerns and complaints from owners. When it comes down to brass tacks, especially if I detect the owners are looking to get back indoors, I try to ask “What about that is not clear to you?” an open-ended question to engage them and hopefully tie up any loose strings before discharging my patients.