Is it time for a haul-in?
Ever since the first equine veterinarian embarked on a farm call, two questions have plagued the industry:
1) How do we capture fees relative to the time and expense of travel?
2) How do we predict the time involved in that travel (and its subsequent impact on the daily appointment schedule)?
While it's unlikely that equine practice will fully transition away from ambulatory services, using a haul-in facility offers an alternative that benefits the client—and your practice—in a number of ways.
Most veterinarians I've spoken to say that the fee for their farm or house calls has never—and probably will never—reflect the actual travel time or fuel costs, not to mention other vehicle-related expenses. Many have simply stuck with a fee schedule that was implemented years ago—one that has risen unremarkably over time.
No doubt, picking a bare piece of land and scheduling a day's worth of calls that come to you would be a sharp improvement economically, but with just a little investment the concept can provide benefits that go beyond financial. Consider the components and benefits of a successful haul-in facility:
Being able to work on a patient with protection from wind and rain is a luxury that doesn't exist on some farm calls. A two- or three-sided pole barn can be adapted easily to create a comfortable workspace, and those who want to make a more significant investment might consider one or more stalls or a fully enclosed facility.
LIGHTING AND ELECTRICITY
Extension cords, mobile vehicles equipped with outlets, and head-lamps provide the minimum needs in the field, but nothing compares with having the power you need, as well as outlets, at your immediate disposal. Headlamps may still "rule," even in a haul-in scenario, but having the ability to create a broader field of illumination is helpful.
Unfortunately, not every horse owner can afford a stall barn with an improved work area, and conducting examinations and procedures on uneven ground can create safety risks for the horse, the owner, and the veterinarian. A round pen with a floor of the veterinarian's preferred surface material creates an ideal area to lunge a patient and will aid in lameness diagnoses.
STOCKS AND PALPATION CHUTE
Among the most dangerous procedures performed by equine veterinarians is the rectal palpation. Most experienced practitioners are able to use whatever is available in the field to avoid being kicked or injured, but a well-built stocks system provides confidence and protection during risky procedures.
ACCESS TO STAFF
While many equine practitioners have conceded that they need help during calls, many still prefer to practice alone. For mixed animal practitioners, locating a haul-in facility at the same location as your small animal clinic allows the dual use of staff members when needed.
If you still use traditional film-based cassettes or a computed radiography system, being close to the processing unit is invaluable. The ability to quickly identify and retake a bad shot can save time, and allowing the owner to view the films in person is an option that doesn't exist without a digital radiography system.