Working as a house-call veterinarian during COVID-19

April 24, 2020

A California veterinarian shares his "new normal" as a mobile practitioner during the pandemic.

Has your life changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic? Mine certainly has, as I live in Los Angeles and usually spend my days working with clients and their pets in their homes.

I've been working as a house-call veterinarian since 2008 and have built up an extensive clientele list, including both well-known entertainment fixtures and “normal” people who seek a level of care and service that generally cannot be provided within a traditional veterinary hospital. This practice style suits my professional interests, as I enjoy having long-term and personal relationships with my clients and their direct communication with me helps to achieve rapid resolution to a variety of pet health and logistical challenges.

As a result of COVID-19 concerns for myself and my clients, I now wear personal protective equipment (PPE), including a face mask, gloves and eye goggles, during my appointments. Additionally, where previously I always would interact with my clients inside their homes, now the scene of my consultations has shifted and I'm spending more time outside on their driveways, balconies, gardens and porches.

As a veterinarian, I've always been fastidious about hand washing and maintaining cleanliness among the supplies that I bring in and out of my clients’ homes. During this time, I'm being extra careful and cleaning off my equipment after each appointment with a bleach/water solution, alcohol or disinfecting wipes.

Other aspects of my practice experience have changed as well. Whereas before COVID-19 I simply emailed my clients or their assistants to set up appointments for wellness services (e.g. booster vaccinations, fecal testing), now some of those services are being postponed until it is deemed less risky to have face-to-face appointments. Wellness services can generally be postponed by a few weeks to months with little to no negative implications for pet health, so I am content to abide by my clients’ wishes to postpone instead of creating more stress for them by forcing an appointment that otherwise could occur in the near future.

With time and adjustment to the “new normals” that have been thrust on us by the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve observed among my clients that having a house call with me is starting to become less of a concern. Client awareness of my PPE preparedness and willingness to work outside their homes has led to a series of acceptances. Because continuing to reschedule appointments creates its own series of challenges, I would much prefer to proceed with caution than to keep postponing.

On a positive note, I’ve noticed that many of my clients have brought juvenile pets into their homes in recent weeks. Taking on younger and generally healthy patients in need of a thorough wellness plan to keep them healthy for years to come is a pleasant change from having to manage severe health problems that have developed over months to years of life.

Driving around Los Angeles creates its own challenges, so I’ve welcomed the reduced travel times and less traffic. Fewer cars on the road has also led to improved air quality, clearer skies and amazing views like I've never seen before when I can get a glimpse from my clients’ properties in the Hollywood Hills.

Overall, being a house-call veterinarian during COVID-19 has created a new set of professional circumstances to which my clients and I must adjust. It has also given me the opportunity to reflect on my current and future plans. I realize that I am fortunate to have followed my inner voice guiding me to Los Angeles in the mid-2000s and to have created a niche veterinary practice that does not require a brick-and-mortar facility or numerous employees.

I hope we all come out of this experience healthy and with an enhanced perspective on how our professional routines and lifestyle choices contribute to the bigger picture of human and veterinary public health.

Patrick Mahaney, VMD, CVA, CVJ, is a certified veterinary acupuncturist and president and medical director of California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness in West Hollywood, California.