It’s 3 p.m. on a Tuesday. You’re home from work early and you reward yourself by settling in front of the TV. You can’t wait to catch up on all your favorite shows, completely uninterrupted. You sink back into the couch and put your feet up. Click the remote and pull up Netflix. Suddenly, your blissful calm is broken by the sound of gagging and vomiting. You drag yourself out of your comfort zone and investigate the source. In the kitchen is Snowball, your beautiful 12-yearold Persian, who is projectile barfing up last night’s tuna entrée. She doesn’t look so good, and you’re worried. You think your best friend should go to the vet, but finding care at the last minute might be challenging … and is it really an emergency?
“In these days of COVID-19, veterinary appointments can be difficult to get, with the soonest availability sometimes weeks away. We want to provide high-quality care for animals that need it—and need it right away when an appointment is not available.”
Snowball is a good example of an urgent care case. By definition, an urgent care case is a patient that needs to be seen right away, usually the same day, but doesn’t have a scheduled appointment. In these days of COVID-19, veterinary appointments can be difficult to get, with the soonest availability sometimes weeks away. A lot of clinics have cut back on their hours or, because of the new protocols, they’ve lengthened their appointment times and consequently are seeing fewer appointments in a day. This may be fine if you have a two-year-old Golden Retriever who needs updated vaccines, but it’s an entirely different situation for a ten-year- old German Shepherd who suddenly can’t walk.
Not all clinics offer urgent care services and, even if you show up at their doorstep, you may be turned away and referred to an emergency clinic, usually VCA Valley in Indio. This may not be close enough, especially if you live in Desert Hot Springs and you’ve got a dog who ate leftover stroganoff that is taking the fast route through the intestines. To meet the needs of this type of situation, VCA Desert recently opened up their urgent care services. We want to provide high-quality care for animals that need it—and need it right away when an appointment is not available. Our service runs from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Here’s how it works.
If your pet is sick and you feel that it needs to be seen right away, then come to VCA Desert and park in one of the designated URGENT CARE spaces in front of the hospital. Then you send a text with the letter that is on the sign in front of you and let them know what designated space you’re in. A customer service representative (CSR) calls you and, if you’re an existing client, the CSR checks you in; or, if you’re a new client, the CSR gets all the necessary information first before checking you in. Then a technician calls you and discusses the medical history and why you’re concerned about your pet’s health. After all that information is recorded, he or she comes out and retrieves your pet. Please make sure that dogs are on leashes, cats are in carriers, and you’re wearing a mask.
The technician brings the pet inside the clinic for a process called triage. This is a determination of how sick your pet is and how quickly it needs to be seen. True emergencies such as hit-bycar, seizure, difficulty breathing cases, or sudden collapse for any reason are seen immediately. Serious cases such as cats that can’t urinate, actively bleeding wounds, or moderate to severe pain for any reason are seen right away. Euthanasias also go straight to the top of the priority list. Ear infections, wounds, or acute onset of vomiting or diarrhea are next on the list, and then finally, chronic issues, such as diabetes management, arthritis, or lumps that “just popped up”—these, too, are regarded as important, but have a lower priority. With cases being prioritized by urgency, it’s possible that one pet that came in at 4 p.m. may be seen by a doctor as soon as it comes through the door, while another pet arriving at the same time may not be seen until 7 p.m. Currently, there is only one urgent care doctor available, so it’s necessary to use this prioritizing approach rather than a “first come, first served” approach. If you arrive and are told there is a wait, it simply means the staff is attending to more critical pets.
After your pet is examined, the doctor calls you and discusses the case. This discussion likely includes the past medical history, the physical exam findings, the possible reasons why the pet is sick and a plan moving forward, which may or may not include diagnostics. The doctor relays the information to a technician who then puts together a “treatment plan.” This is a list of items that the doctor recommends to either diagnose the condition, treat the condition, or both, as well as the final cost. The technician calls you back and if the plan is agreed upon, then the technicians do what is required.
In most cases, treating even the simplest of illnesses can take some time, especially with the added precautions for guarding against COVID-19. The technician should give you a good idea of how long everything will take after the treatment plan is discussed but, in most cases, it’s best to leave the pet with us and we’ll call you when everything is done. I assure you that the staff works very hard to not keep pets any longer than needed, but sometimes it can be several hours, so we do appreciate clients being patient and understanding.
When you come back to the clinic for pickup, you text the urgent care number again. A technician or the CSR comes out to your vehicle, processes your payment, and brings out your pet. Don’t forget to ask about a recheck appointment if one was recommended. It’s best to set that up before you leave rather than calling back at a later date.
What happens if you have an urgent care case at 9 a.m.? You can still bring your pet down to the clinic to be seen, and one of the day-shift doctors may be able to do an examination based on the availability within their schedule. Sometimes, this may happen right away, but your pet could also be waiting several hours until urgent care opens up at 4 p.m. Of course, if it’s a true emergency, you don’t even need to call; just come by, and we’ll triage your pet and let you know how quickly it will be seen. Unfortunately, we do not yet offer urgent care hours on the weekend. However, just like during the weekdays before 4 p.m., you can come by and one of the doctors may be able to see you based on the triage process and availability.
There is a chance that you might be told that urgent care staff is not taking any more patients for the day. This is something we try very hard to avoid, but it can happen if either we have too many critical patients to deal with, or it’s too close to closing time and there isn’t enough time to get everything done before the end of the shift. In these cases, you should be offered options—to either make an appointment, come back in the morning and see if the general practice can see your pet, or wait until urgent care opens up again the next evening. The emergency clinic in Indio is always open, too, if you need immediate care. If your pet’s condition is deemed an emergency, we will stabilize your pet and communicate with the staff at VCA Valley to continue the care there. We don’t provide transport so you would be responsible for getting your pet to Indio.
We hope that our new urgent care program provides a valuable service to the community. We strive to offer the best care at affordable prices and hope to expand this service in the future. We realize there are plenty of challenges during this time of COVID-19—finding compassionate care for your pet shouldn’t be one of them.
Planning helps you react quickly in case of an emergency. These items should be within easy reach to bring along:
∎ Closest after-hours emergency clinic
∎ Medical records
∎ Pet carrier
∎ Collar & Leash