Pet owner told she could try another vet after refusing to pay walk-in fees

Ms Juliet Isabella tried calling Ohana VetCare clinic for more than an hour to book an appointment for her cat. PHOTO: JULIET ISABELLA/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - A pet owner who took to social media to complain about an additional “walk-in fee” at a vet said she was asked to leave the clinic after she refused to pay the additional charges.

In her post on Facebook page Complaint Singapore on Tuesday, Ms Juliet Isabella said she visited the Ohana VetCare clinic at Loyang Point mall on March 3.

Ms Isabella said she had tried calling the clinic from 6.24pm to 7.27pm to book an appointment for her cat, which was suffering from inflammation in its groin area, but to no avail.

She then headed to the clinic at 8pm, and said she was told by nurses that she would have to pay a walk-in fee of $72.11. 

Ms Isabella also said that, without assessing the condition of her cat, Dr Francis Tay, one of the clinic’s vets, said to her: “If you are not happy with our service, you can go... (to) another vet clinic. I don’t think you’ll pay the add-on walk-in fee.”

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, Dr Tay, who is listed on LinkedIn as the clinic’s director, said that the charging of a walk-in fee is to discourage customers from walking in as this would disrupt the clinic’s schedule and “ultimately result in longer waiting time for scheduled clients, staff skipping meals, poorer patient care, stressed out staff and clients”.

He clarified that the clinic’s charge of a walk-in fee included the consultation fee with a scheduled appointment, priced at $44.93.

Regarding Ms Isabella’s phone calls that went unanswered, he said: “Our dinner time was from 6pm to 7pm, and we don’t answer calls while trying to buy or heat up food and then slurp it down.”

Dr Tay added that it was common for their break to be shortened to half an hour as the last consultation could sometimes stretch till 6.30pm. 

He said that as the clinic is not an emergency clinic or hospital, “calls are not a priority, compared with the clients who have already come in”.

Dr Tay said that he noticed that the cat was sitting upright in its carrier and was looking around curiously and that Ms Isabella had asked to speak to a manager after she was told that an additional walk-in fee would be charged.

He said she then “threatened to make a big deal” about being charged the fee.

Regarding claims of unprofessional conduct, Dr Tay said: “I admit I did smirk, and I wasn’t nice. But I chose to stand up against bullying. There is already a shortage of veterinary staff in Singapore. The job is not easy, whether as a vet or as a nurse.

“The effect of clients being mean can’t be easily measured, but I’m sure it has contributed to people leaving the industry.”

In response to queries from ST, Ms Jessica Kwok, group director of the Animal and Veterinary Service (AVS), said that AVS has received feedback involving a veterinary clinic, and is looking into the matter.

She said that while AVS currently does not regulate the fees charged for veterinary services, the veterinary profession is expected to perform duties to the highest standard and also ensure staff do so.

A check by ST showed that while walk-in charges were not common, they could range from $10 to $40 at clinics that did impose such a charge.

“In addition, under the Code of Ethics for Veterinarians, a veterinarian should also conduct himself in relation to the public, his colleagues and their patients, and the allied professions, so as to merit their full confidence and respect,” said Ms Kwok.

She added that, as part of AVS’ ongoing review of the veterinary sector, AVS and the Singapore Veterinary Association have been conducting regular consultations with key stakeholders, to gather views on advancing the professional standards of the sector. AVS will share its recommendations for this when ready.

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