I am about to reveal one of the great truths about veterinary practice.
I am about to reveal one of the great truths about veterinary practice — a truth which, through years of front-line experience, battle-weary, seasoned practitioners already have figured out. But I see no reason to force the rest of you to learn it the hard way, so here it is:
About 90 percent of aggravation in practice comes from 10 percent of your clients.
In my practice, clients such as Wanda Lott prove this rule every day. During her very first office call with us, she was quick to point out all the faults of her previous veterinarian.
"His prices were much too high, and he never seemed very pleased about extending me credit," she complained. "Besides, he was always recommending things we didn't need, like vaccines, dental work and routine check-ups. Dental work on a dog! Can you imagine?"
That was three years ago.
Since then, as you may have guessed, she never followed my recommendations or paid her bill on time. What's worse is that Wanda always wants more than we are willing to provide.
"Oh, Doctor," she pleads. "Can't you stay in the office just a little bit longer tonight? I'll only be a half hour or so late."
About once a month, my answering service contacts me with a late-night phone call on her behalf. "Ms. Wanda Lott needs to talk to you immediately. It is very important. She says it's an emergency."
There is no need to tell me the number. I know it by heart (1-800-ASS-PAIN).
The phone call goes something like this:
"Thanks for calling back, Doc. Do you remember when I was in to see you last week?"
(Of course I do. Unfortunately, her office calls are unforgettable.)
"Well, at the time, I couldn't recall what I fed my dog, Stinkza. Remember, you asked me about his diet? Well, it's Fido Fritters."
One time she called at 3 a.m. with a similar update.
"Doctor, do you remember when I asked you about my neighbor's dog? The one that isn't a patient of yours, but has allergies. You asked me about the breed. Well, I just remembered. It is a Poodle."
Such telephone calls represent only the tip of the aggravation iceberg. An office call with Wanda Lott is even worse. It starts on the wrong foot and loses ground from there.
Her dog, Stinkza, is a nasty, smelly, wrinkly, seborrheic Basset Hound. Last year, he bit one of my technicians. This resulted in a $428 bill from the local emergency room. Oh, sure, workman's compensation insurance covered it, but by some stroke of coincidence our premium went up right after that.
During every office call, Wanda gets out her brush and asks if we can help with a little grooming.
"He just won't hold still for brushing at home," she says. "Can't you hold him for me a few minutes while I just get the bad spots? He doesn't bite."
I always politely refuse. That's because I'm running behind schedule, and the reason is that someone (guess who?) was late for her appointment. The visit doesn't end there, though.
"Oh, I almost forgot," she announces. "Could you clean his ears, trim his nails and squeeze out those things in the back end?"
As if these things weren't enough, Wanda recently found a new way to attack our sanity. She joined ARTS (animals right to sterilization), a local group of spay vigilantes. I am proud to say that you would have to look long and hard to find a practice that does as much charity work as mine, but Wanda always needs more.
"Why can't vaccinations be free?"
"Why are you vets so greedy?"
"Why can't your technicians do spays in their spare time?"
"Why can't we keep 10 sick strays in your hospital for a few days?"
Now, dealing with her has escalated to a daily event, and is my greatest source of client aggravation.
My office staff, on the other hand, seems to tolerate her better and better each month.
I'm not sure how they do it, but there may be some correlation with the fact that our pharmacy seems to run low on tranquilizers more often than it used to.
Dr. Obenski owns Allentown Clinic for Cats in Allentown, Pa.