An organisation that provides emergency training to general practice vets is proving to be an unexpected boon to vets and their animals. By Rob Johnson
It’s not often you see a genuine emergency in a general veterinary practice. But when you do, managing it successfully can impact more than just the patient. According to emergency veterinarian Dr Lucy Kirton, the latest research suggests some common emergency procedures are more effective than you might realise. But they also boost staff morale even if they’re not successful.
Picture this. You’re doing a straightforward surgery on an otherwise healthy animal when they have a peri-anaesthetic arrest. “If you do good quality CPR on them, they’ve actually got the best chance of coming back,” says Dr Kirton. “There is about a 50 per cent survival rate for quality CPR with a peri-anaesthetic arrest. The GP practices are the ones that should know how to do it because they’ve got healthy animals that are having an elective procedure, and they’ve got the best chance of survival.”
But beyond that, survival of the patient, while the ideal outcome, is almost a secondary benefit. “The main benefit we see is staff members feel like they really did the best that they could,” she explains. “Owners feel that everyone did the best that they could. It’s all about owner perception, as well as staff morale, really.”
For that reason alone, she says, the impact of emergency training in a GP clinic can be greater than the impact of training on dedicated emergency vets. “The reality is the sort of cases we’re going to see in emergency are actually like a hit by car or an end-stage heart failure. Their chances of survival are actually very poor,” she explains. A healthy animal’s chances are much better.
Filling a need
It’s part of the reason Dr Kirton and fellow emergency vet Dr Yvonne Van Der Veek started FlexiVet Training, a training organisation focused on CPR and small animal emergency courses. Both had worked as emergency vets for about a decade and had seen, in GP colleagues, a lack of knowledge around the topic. “I also think there’s a perception that there’s not really much point doing it because you’re not going to get a good outcome anyway,” she adds.
Working as emergency vets, she says, “we were getting sent cases where people had obviously panicked and didn’t really know what they were doing. We’re both also very interested in CPR as well, so we both became RECOVER-accredited CPR trainers back in 2017.”
Both were also aware of the lack of training in the field, and that much emergency knowledge came from osmosis.
“I worked in GP practice for about 10 years, and I’ll be honest, we didn’t really get much emergency training,” says Dr Kirton. “I think things that freak people out in a GP practice are things like animals with breathing difficulties, collapsed animals or your higher-grade tick paralysis—they’re so few and far between in a GP practice.”
While overseas training content may be available, there are uniquely Australian problems around various local animals whose bites paralyse (think snakes, puffer fish, and blue ringed octopi). The challenge at this particular time is finding the time to do the training—for both clinics and the trainers themselves. “September through to Christmas is a block-off period, effectively, because we’re busy ourselves with work because of tick season,” says Dr Kirton. But this year the pandemic hit, and everything changed.
“When COVID hit at the start, we had a couple of weeks of early euthanasia cases due to funds, and we thought, ‘this is going to be horrible’. When JobKeeper kicked in, I’ll be honest, it just went mental. It really got busy. I got the impression GP vets did a lot of puppy vaccinations, and I think in the coming months there will be much more of them.”
So FlexiVet has branched out into webinars, which isn’t ideal for hands-on courses like CPR. Nonetheless, it’s worked surprisingly well, says Dr Kirton.
“It was a whole new world for us, to be honest. Neither of us are particularly computer-savvy. We’re doing a webinar about once a fortnight at the moment, and we also offer it in a recorded form afterwards. We’ve actually had really good uptake from that.
“Having said that, we don’t really see it as a replacement to the face-to-face sessions. We haven’t been able to offer the CPR courses because they really are a hands-on, practical course. There is a certain amount of the information we can do online, but really, we need to be able to show them how to do it. It’s a lot about how the team works together as well. We haven’t been able to offer the CPR courses, but we are actually starting to offer them again now.”
While the benefit of the training to patients is obvious, she reiterates, the real benefit is to the whole team. “I think one of the main benefits we’ve seen is the staff morale level and the team-building effect of it,” she explains. “When you’ve done the CPR course, everyone knows what they’re doing, and if the animal survives that’s great, but if it doesn’t survive, we did what we could, but it just wasn’t meant to be. It’s about avoiding walking away feeling that you’ve not done the best that you could.”