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Photo: Elizabeth Bradley

Have clinic, will travel: Mobile veterinarian services a growing trend

By Yasmin Nissim on March 13, 2019

Like many households today, pets are a part of my home life and valued members of my family. Ensuring that my fur babies have everything they need to live long, healthy, and happy lives is my role as their guardian, and being able to access regular veterinary care is an absolutely vital necessity. Annual check-ups and vaccinations, flea and tick treatments, emergency visits—these are all regular things to plan for and expect when you decide to welcome an animal into your family.

Photo: Elizabeth Bradley

Choosing a veterinarian is a big part of the experience and quite a few factors influence who you decide to trust with the health of your animal companion, accessibility being a big one. Some pet parents may not have access to a vehicle of their own, or perhaps have physical limitations that make it difficult to get around or get their pet in and out of a carrier or vehicle. On this point, I have been very happy to see the Ottawa veterinary community evolve to offer more mobile care options, eliminating many of the issues around accessibility and mobility that arise when it’s the client who has to travel for an appointment. This is by no means a new idea, but it is one that is growing in popularity.

A new vet practice recently launched in Ottawa that has completely done away with the traditional clinic, and operates as a mobile practice. Under the leadership of veterinarian and founder Mike Mossop, Treatwell Pet Care and the Mobile Veterinary Services of Ottawa now provide in-home veterinary care throughout the city. Recently, I was able to ask Mike a few questions about his new practice, and what it’s like being a vet on the go.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Apt613: Coming from a clinical background, what encouraged you to focus on a mobile veterinary practice?

Mike Mossop: In my almost 10 years of practice in clinics, I learned many things, met great people and pets, and generally had a good time. I really valued the close bond that I shared with regular clients, and seeing an animal improve with treatment was always extremely rewarding.

Over time however, I started to get burnt out. Being a veterinarian is a tough job. You’re helping people with their best friend, and are often doing so while both the pet and the pet parent are under stress. Throw in the high cost of veterinary care, and it makes for a very emotional situation. This, along with spending most of my day in a busy and noisy clinic environment left me thinking there had to be a better way.

“The burn-out that I experienced working in the industry is an all too common problem.”

We have set out to make Treatwell a place that helps not only pets and pet parents, but veterinarians and support staff too. The burn-out that I experienced working in the industry is an all too common problem, and I know many friends and former colleagues who have disengaged completely from their place of work. We have built this company around the principles of self-management, which will allow us to operate in small teams that are rapidly able to make and implement their own decisions, leading not just to happier staff and better engagement, but better customer service as well. Clearly we are just a small team now, and the real challenge will come when it’s time to scale these ideas, but we already have the framework in place to do so.

Is there a need for mobile vet services in Ottawa?

Absolutely, and I can attest to that from the new clients we’re getting! It seems people are focusing more and more on personalized service and convenience. While there are other good mobile vets in Ottawa, I do feel the area is underserved, especially given how Ottawa is growing and changing.

Photo: Elizabeth Bradley

Do you have a diverse clientele, or are there specific kinds of pet parents you find are more inclined to use mobile vet services?

While people in this city vary greatly, one common thread is that many of us value and cherish the pet-parenting experience. Our initial strategy really targeted the busy, young professional, someone who could probably seek veterinary care elsewhere, but valued the convenience of in-home care and product delivery.

We certainly do have clients that fit that mould, but we also have clients who call us to make medical care less stressful for their anxious pets. We really pride ourselves on practicing Fear Free medicine. Making sure the patient is where they are most comfortable seemed like a logical extension of this.

What kinds of pets are you able to offer mobile services for?

Right now, we only serve dogs and cats. One day we may hire a vet with more “exotic” experience, but probably not in the foreseeable future. We also don’t operate on the Quebec side of the border. It’s a different province with its own licensing and we’re not able to practice there yet.

Are there different kinds of risks and challenges you need to factor in that you wouldn’t encounter in a clinic?

An obvious one is time and traffic management! Aside from that, doing in-home care can be tricky. You don’t have the exam table, lights and other equipment that is taken for granted in a clinic setting. Everything we use we need to carry with us, and it’s a lot of stuff.

In clinics there are also more helping hands. If we can’t do a procedure comfortably with two people, and in front of the owner, we don’t do it. This leads to some creative thinking; sometimes taking an extra 10 minutes to get the pet acclimated to a certain type of touch using lots of tasty treats can go a long way. In other instances we rely on owners giving their pet pre-appointment sedation prior to our arrival. These are safe sedatives that help everyone relax so exams go more smoothly.

Photo: Elizabeth Bradley

Do you find being in your client’s home impacts your relationship with them, and how?

Having someone welcome you into their home is a type of intimate experience. We get to see how pets live and their behaviour under typical circumstances, all of which can help with diagnosing and treating pets.

We also see a lower volume of patients. Our visits are usually 60-90 minutes each—compared to 20-30 minutes in the typical clinic—which means we have time to focus more on each patient, and we can slow things down when we need to.

We’ve had a few owners comment on how their own anxiety makes them uncomfortable at vet clinics, and they really appreciate that our service helps them with that. When their pets are less stressed they relax a little, which can help them open up about their thought process.

Photo: Elizabeth Bradley

Speaking of anxiety, have you noted a difference in the general, overall stress-level of your patients during examinations?

No question. Many of our patients have been referred to us by other veterinarians. They are more-or-less untreatable in a clinic setting because they are so afraid, and who can blame them! All those odd smells, sounds and experiences must seem very foreign to a pet that doesn’t understand what’s going on. At home, we can treat them successfully simply using a kind, gentle and patient approach.

When your patients have emergencies, require surgery, blood work, x-rays, scans, do you have specific vets you work with in Ottawa for referrals? Are there potential delays because you can’t do certain things “in-house”?

We can do a lot of things in-house and I’d suggest we can probably do 80 to 90 per cent of what can be done in a general practice right there in your living room. Blood tests, urine tests, and skin tests are no problem, even minor surgeries like laceration repairs and skin biopsies can be done with a reversible anesthetic injection.

“I’d suggest we can probably do 80 to 90 per cent of what can be done in a general practice right there in your living room.”

We are not able to do major surgery, dentistry or x-rays as they really require a clinic setting to be done well. When one of our patients needs those services, we will co-ordinate with a local clinic. When it comes to true emergencies, we also refer patients to local clinics, and it’s usually one of the 24-hour clinics where they are able to provide a high level of care.

You operate on a monthly payment plan structure. Why take this approach?

Our membership plans are built around modernizing the relationship between pet parents and veterinarians. There is so much information to digest these days, the old model of a 30-minute annual exam and the occasional sick visit just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Photo: Elizabeth Bradley

Is the cost per pet/per household, and how does this monthly cost compare to what the average pet parent pays for in-clinic care?

This cost is per pet. If a client signs up more than one pet however, we do give them a credit of $25 on their account any time we visit to treat two pets at once (increasing to a $50 credit for three pets, $75 for four pets, etc.).

It’s a little hard to compare. If you were to follow the OVMA Fee Guide, our prices are much lower than recommended. That being said, I know most people will compare us to a traditional clinic where exams are more in the $80–100 price range, rather than other mobile practices. If you add our service up line by line, we would likely be more expensive than your local clinic, but not by much. We do our best to make it worth it for our members in a couple of ways:

All vaccines, and some basic testing, are included with membership

When we require extra visits for things like a booster vaccine, or to collect a blood sample, we don’t charge for those additional trips

When we perform blood and urine tests, we don’t charge collections fees, which most clinics do.

Nail trims and anal gland expressions are always free.

For more information on mobile care options, monthly plans, or to get in touch with Mike with any questions you may have, you can visit Treatwell Pet Care website here.