Wed Dec 21, 2011
Vienna, Hotel Bosei, Austria Trend, Austria
Singapore time 11.40 am
Monday Dec 19, 2011 was a dark thunderstorm day. I was at the office at 9.30 am to review the hospitalisation cases. A tall matronly Caucasian lady in a big SUV parked outside. I had seen her before some 3 days ago as Caucasian clientele form less than 1% of Toa Payoh Vets' practice and so they are outstanding.
"Good morning. Dr Vanessa will be in only after 11.30 am," I said. "Is there anything I can help you with while you wait for her. Has your dog recovered from diarrhoea?"
"Yes," she said. "For the past 4 days, he had not pooped. Shall I use the tube which is for treating people with constipation?"
"Yes,"I said. "Use the enema tube for children. You do know how to use it?"
"Yes," she told me. "You know, after the dog went home after treatment for diarrhoea, he had to go to the toilet so many times at night and past midnight to pee. I was so worried."
"That would be due to urine produced. When Dr Vanessa gave your dog the IV drip, your dog would produce more urine as the IV drip water was filtered by the dog's kidneys."
She said: "Nobody told me to expect this. I was very worried that my dog had to go to the toilet so many times after midnight! Now I am worried that he had not pooped for the past 4 days." Later I spoke to Dr Vanessa who told me that she had received a phone call and had settled the matter with her client.
"Stop the medication that Dr Vanessa gave and the dog should poo," I advised. "What is your dog's reference number so that I can take out his medical record. It is written inside the receipt."
The lady put her handbag on the green cloth of the receptionist table. The ccloth covered a plywood counter as the glass pane had cracked and Dr Teo had got a carpenter to put on plywood. As the plywood looked bad for a vet practice, I covered it with the big green towel. Overall, it was not a good impression unlike other new practices. But I had plans to renovate the receptionist room in 2012 and so the overall impression was not too good. I mean, no receptionist counter has a big green or blue towel covering the top! The clients would not comment but the poor impression was there as you would deduce later from this Caucasian lady's comments to me.
The lady digged deep into her bag and produced two veterinary receipts of another practice. Lots of things inside a lady's big bag. "I am sorry I can't find Dr Vanessa's receipt," she said.
I don't comment on seeing receipts of other practices as doctor-hopping is not uncommon in Singapore as this would be inconsiderate. Out of the blue, the lady said: "I use to go to X (name of a famous practice) for many years. It is nicer and has many equipment and doctors. But I prefer the services of Dr Vanessa." I deduce that Toa Payoh Vets need some more painting and repair. It is just not practical to rebuild again as the Surgery has to close for 2 months. In any case, a nice veterinary clinic is like a beauty without brains. The brains are that of the veterinary surgeon who must know what to do and arrive at a correct diagnosis and good clinical outcome. The brains are more important than the physical appearance but that does not mean that tthe practice is like a bombed out dirty place. Toa Payoh Vets need another consultation room and a new receptionist area and this takes time to plan as the space of 60 sq m is very small for dogs that need hospitalisation after surgery, unlike some newer parental financed practices which renovate at over $500,000.
A famous practice with vets that cannot meet the higher expectations of some clients like this European lady would lose such clients to the newer clinics and others. However, since Singaporeans are impressed by brand name (see my conversation with the taxi driver below), a famous established practice will unlikely close down unless it is poorly managed.
In the evening, I got a cab to go to the Changi Airport for my European travel. The taxi driver of around 60 years old was quite chatty and asked Daniel what job he was doing. On hearing that Daniel had graduated as a vet, he spoke about his old dog that his daughter had adopted and now he had to care for it. "The dog is famous amongst the senior vets in X," he said. "I spent $3,000 to fix his broken jaw. Recently he went to another branch of X for passing urine many times. All tests were done. I got some medication for two weeks. But my dog still cannot control his urine. It must be old age," he concluded.
"He will need to be reviewed again," I said softly. He was not interested in listening to outside vets and so I let it be. Unlike the European lady, this taxi-driver would not seek another opinion other than the brand name and this is why I say that brand name still pulls in clientele. But performance counts in the end. A beauty without brains is no good for the dog if the owner is sophisticated to know what to do and to seek a second, third or foureth opinion rather than going for the brand name mindlessly."