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The Emerging Role of Urgent Care
If your dog’s discomfort over a potential ear infection or a deep cut on your cat’s leg ever made you debate whether the situation was too dire to wait for an appointment with your primary care vet but perhaps not life-threatening enough to face the dreaded, hours-long wait at the (expensive) veterinary emergency room, you’re not alone. As more and more people have faced this conundrum in recent years, a new veterinary service has emerged: urgent care for pets. We were likely always headed in this direction, but COVID-19 expedited its arrival.
The impact of COVID-19 on veterinary care
During the COVID-19 pandemic, veterinary hospitals — including here at the MSPCA-Angell — had to modify standard protocols to ensure the safety of clients and patients and fulfill the growing demand for veterinary services.
During that time, the MSPCA-Angell experienced a significant increase in patient caseload, as other veterinary hospitals did, according to Dr. Doug Brum in the Internal Medicine department at the MSPCA-Angell. “The pandemic was a boon for pets in many ways,” he said. “As adoption rates soared, many people – including first-time pet parents — spent more time at home with their pets, giving people plenty of chances to notice subtle changes in their pet’s behavior (changes that otherwise may have gone unnoticed during non-pandemic times).” Suddenly a dog who may have vomited once was viewed as maybe an emergency — and pet owners scrutinized everything. “In the past two years, we’ve received twice as many emails from people asking questions about their pets,” said Dr. Brum.
As COVID-19 churned, Angell staff never stopped working — as a 24/7 facility, the animal hospital’s doors have always remained open, but suddenly the volume of patients became overwhelming. Although access to 24/7 care was great for Angell clients and patients, providing it in a new environment that required new safety precautions was draining on the medical team, especially frontline staff, who were already doing their best to follow safety protocols despite reduced staff capacity. Burnout is a challenge in the veterinary field, but the pandemic worsened it, and as a result, at Angell, like at most veterinary specialty hospitals at the time, some staff left. Even though the remaining doctors and technicians worked round-the-clock, it became clear that they could not keep up with the skyrocketing demand for services. And due to this overwhelming need, a difficult decision was made: the Emergency and Critical Care (E/CC) service closed at Angell West in Waltham for a while. (It reopened to the public in February 2022.)
Urgent Care is born at Angell
Millie visiting Dr. Pakravan at Angell’s Urgent Care service in Waltham, MA, for an ear infection.
Still, as the pandemic continued and patients arrived in more significant numbers, Angell staff had to do something to help clients. “This is how the Urgent Care Clinic was born at Angell West in Waltham,” said Dr. Brum. Although it was by appointment only, it helped alleviate some of the burdens on the E/CC service at the Boston hospital, and it helped make up for the lack of an E/CC in Waltham. “This new Urgent Care Clinic treated patients with non-life-threatening emergencies, such as lacerations, impacted anal glands, and the like,” he said. In the pre-pandemic “old days,” Angell medical staff saw these patients in the emergency room alongside those needing heavy, supportive care. However, by diverting patients with non-life-threatening emergencies to the Urgent Care Clinic, the patients who arrived at the Boston E/CC service with life-threatening circumstances (e.g., a dog hit by a car or a cat who ate a poisonous flower) could receive treatment immediately.
“Not being able to see urgent appointments hurts us as veterinarians,” said Dr. Brum. “It goes against everything we hold dear — and it goes against our mission to provide the highest standard of care for animals.” But having access to an urgent care service can help doctors and technical staff avoid burnout from trying to keep up with demands and stretching themselves too thin.
Dr. Brum continued that while urgent care is relatively new to veterinary medicine, COVID-19 brought it to the forefront. “We cannot turn people away when we are understaffed or have too many patients. If that’s happening, it’s evident that we need to do something,” he said. “Emergency rooms are not recommended for non-emergency medical problems in human hospitals. I feel this should be the same for veterinary hospitals. Even though some health issues may not be life-threatening, they are still considered emergencies. They cannot wait and must be treated as soon as possible.”
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About Angell’s Urgent Care Service
In addition to our Emergency service for more critical cases, Angell offers Urgent Care service for dogs and cats at our MSPCA-Angell West location in Waltham. This is an appointment-based service, not a walk-in service. Clients can call up to one day in advance to book an Urgent Care appointment. Our team can help you discern if your animal’s condition is an Urgent Care or Emergency case. Urgent care for exotic animals is also available through our Avian and Exotic service in Waltham.
Appointment-based Urgent Care means minimal wait time at the hospital for you and your pet.
The Urgent Care exam fee is less than the Emergency exam fee.
If you are an Angell client, our Urgent Care service has immediate access to your pet’s medical records and history and can provide seamless care.
Dr. Natasha Pakravan has received advanced training beyond veterinary school and is highly experienced in treating emergency cases.
Daytime, afternoon, and evening appointments for dogs and cats are available Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, 8 am to 6 pm, by calling 781-902-8400. Urgent care appointments for exotic animals can be made by calling 617-989-1561.
For more information on the MSPCA-Angell’s Urgent Care services in Waltham, please visit angell.org/urgentcare.