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A Vet Who Practices Without an Animal Hospital

Simplify. It's a growing trend in many areas: declutter, trim down, simplify your schedule and your lifestyle. One veterinarian in upstate New York did just that and created a whole new way to practice as a result. In the "house calls only" business for the past eleven years, she has honed her particular brand of veterinary house calls to match her clients and her area, and still "helps out" at one of the local animal hospitals when their vets need a hand.

A "house calls only" veterinary practice presents some unique challenges and special opportunities for pet owners, their pets and of course the vet. Let's check out what this looks like as we explore the pros and cons from all sides.

Tools of the Trade

Her phone, her scheduler/planner, and her car are the most important tools Dr. Barbara MacMullen uses daily. Open up to any given date in the plan book and you'll see an incredibly detailed schedule of what's on for the day: appointments, phone calls, reminders for the next day, and lists of what might be needed at each visit. Being organized is key, she insists. Having everything she needs at every appointment saves her time and saves the client money. And it means that at each appointment, she has the time to relax and focus on the dog, the owner and the interaction between the two, zeroing in on any problem, medical or behavioral.

"I might be anywhere within a three county radius on any given day," she laughs. "I need a car that will get me everywhere I need to go. I see clients in the city of Kingston, but I also have to go way out into the boonies sometimes. I know it's hard for people with a few dogs and long drives to get in to an animal hospital so I feel like I'm really providing an important service."

Evenings are spent on the phone. Calling back everyone she checked in on during the day, making appointments and trialing animals who may need a more immediate service are daily tasks as well. "Sometimes I talk to an owner three or four times before I ever see a dog," she points out. "A visit with me might take a few days or even longer to get scheduled.

Sometimes I can really help over the phone. And I can also get a sense of how much an owner is willing and able to do in terms of home care. If I've got someone ready to go to the pharmacy or health food store and buy some things to try, or maybe give a new diet a try, that might save the owner a $50 visit. And yes, lots of times, I am telling people to call their local animal hospital. If you're going to be my client, you need back up for urgent care and emergencies. That's just the way it is."

Pros and Cons What are some of the pros and cons of using a vet that doesn't work out of an animal hospital? From a dog's point of view, the benefits can be huge. If the vet comes to your home, then your pup may well be less stressed by the lack of a whole ordeal: no car ride, no weird animal hospital smells, no slippery, cold exam table and no strangers restraining her.

For the dog owner, convenience (especially if you have multiple animals) is a major benefit. The doctor does all the driving! Relatively relaxed and in their own environment, dogs are more likely to exhibit any symptoms without the added stress or agitation from being in the animal hospital. Thus if there are symptoms that need to be monitored, the vet can get a more accurate sense of how severe they are, unaffected by anxiety or stress.

The cons of a house calls only practice involve the nature of the beast: the doctor is out in the field and can't respond to an emergency. Dog owners still need to maintain a relationship with a local animal hospital just for emergencies, which can be tricky. Let's face it, if you wanted a relationship with the local animal hospital you probably wouldn't be courting the house calls vet, right?

Because a house calls only practice has no staff and no hospital overhead, some cost savings can be passed on. Dr. MacMullen is always looking for ways for her clients to promote their dogs' health in the most frugal ways she can find. "If I can help a family save money, then I think I should do that. Why not, as long as it doesn't affect the quality of care?"

Why not, indeed. Quality and convenience, delivered to your door.

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