Meet Doorstep Vet – the mobile veterinary practice that comes straight to your door
Bringing a stress-free, convenient and personal service to your doorstep, it’s a no-brainer why this mobile vet is proving a hit here in the North East. We caught up with founder Joanna Melville to find out more…
Having graduated from The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies in Edinburgh in 2002, Joanna Melville spent the first five years of her career in vet practices across Newcastle, York and London.
The call of hotter climes led her to Istanbul, where she lived for three years while completing an MBA at an international university, before returning to London to work in various commercial roles, including life sciences consulting and e-commerce for Ocado. It was here Joanna first discovered just how much technology and innovation could impact veterinary practices, as she helped to establish the brand’s first online pharmacy as part of their pet site, Fetch.
Returning to the North East in 2014 with a young family in tow, Joanna recognised that the local vet industry was full of untapped potential. And so, while balancing her career with raising her family, an idea began to take shape which promised to combine the physical convenience of traditional home vet visits with a modern, efficient and digitally-led structure.
The result? Doorstep Vet…
Why did you want to set up Doorstep Vet?
We all have busy lives and the Covid pandemic has shone a light on more services that can be offered at home. Veterinary practices are getting busier, while still trying to battle staff shortages. Home visits aren’t new; they’ve always been a requirement for some clients – the elderly, for example, or those without cars. In the past, practices have done their best to accommodate these, but they can be time consuming and take vets away from a practice for a large chunk of the day. In short, most vets don’t have the capacity to do them.
Doorstep Vet offers a convenient, efficient and less stressful experience for both patient and owner.
Why do you think veterinary practices keep on getting busier?
The vet industry is currently facing a massive supply versus demand issue – there are now too many pets and too few vets. This has been down to a ‘perfect storm’ of issues, ranging from pandemic puppies and Brexit to the ripple effects of the pandemic and general burnout. This has led to some practices extending their no-visit policy (introduced during the pandemic) indefinitely, with many others offering visits only in exceptional circumstances.
Conventional practices are now facing an increasing workload amid rising customer expectations. The same client complaints happen again and again: they can’t get through to the practice on the phone, they experience long waiting times in the clinic then feel rushed, they’re always seeing a different vet.
I saw a clear opportunity to offer a highly personal, convenient, ‘GP style’ service for everyday health needs in the form of a mobile vet practice that travels to my clients’ homes. I have fewer clients, offer longer appointments and provide a premium level of customer service for a lower price than most conventional vets would charge for a home visit.
It’s not only mobile check-ups you offer – you also offer home delivery of specialist pet food and medications, too?
Everything we do is centred around convenience for our clients. As well as coming to their homes, we’re utilising digital tech wherever possible: using secure online payment methods, facilitating home delivery of vet-recommended food and, soon, home delivery of medication via our online vetshop, as well as our super convenient Doorstep Health Plan.
What limits are there in a stationary veterinary practice that don’t exist when you operate as a mobile vet?
Time, personal service, continuity of care and flexibility… We can adapt our visits to suit the animal and their owner and give the pet time to adjust. We’ve done boosters in gardens, blood tests in beds, whatever works! That’s hard to achieve within the constraints of a busy, static practice.
We offer longer appointment times, too. There are often multiple or complex issues to discuss, which can be very difficult to fit into a regular appointment time of 10-15 minutes, and even harder if you see a different vet every time you visit. We typically book a maximum of six appointments per day, which leaves us with plenty of time for those that need it.
And we hear you also offer socially distanced consults, too?
Yes, for clients who prefer to maintain some distance, but who don’t like the idea of their pet being taken out of their sight. Our van is equipped with a clever sliding window – complete with cat mesh – so those clients who prefer to stay outside the van can still see what’s going on, without being in really close proximity to us.
Does bringing the vet to their homes help keep pets calmer than if they were visiting a static veterinary practice?
They’re in (or just outside) their own personal space, so they don’t get overcrowded with other clients or animals. So, yes – for many pets, it does.
Some pets simply don’t travel well and so any form of transport can be an ordeal. For others, the issue arises once they’re at the practice. The waiting room is a bit of a lottery: one day you can breeze in and out without an issue, other days you can have a long wait if there have been some complex appointments or emergencies to fit in. Some animals pick up on that atmosphere, which can make them nervous. We do our best to minimise this atmosphere and our van certainly doesn’t ‘feel’ like a typical consulting room.
What procedures can you do on a doorstep?
Rather than trying to offer the same as a conventional practice, I wanted to offer a more limited service but to do this to the highest standards possible. So, our service is all consulting-based – we do not offer surgery.
We can do most ‘GP style’ work, including health checks, vaccinations, and the management of long-term conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, thyroid and kidney problems. We work with IDEXX Reference Laboratories for our diagnostics and can perform blood tests, swabs, urine sample, and testing of lumps and bumps. We have access to their team of specialists for any additional support and hope to expand our services to offer blood pressure checks and ultrasound in the very near future.
We do also provide an at-home euthanasia service. For many pet owners, it’s really important that they can say goodbye to their pet in the comfort of their own home and it’s a privilege for us to be able to help them with this.
What about issues that fall outside your scope?
We don’t perform surgery or anaesthetics in the van, as my professional view is that this is best done in a static hospital environment with full backup facilities should complications arise. Even operations that we consider ‘routine’, such as spays, are still major surgery.
The beauty of being an independent practice is we can provide the best of both worlds – a highly personal, convenient GP service whilst also arranging referrals to specialists where required. We collaborate with an incredible network of practices in the area, ranging from small independents to large hospitals, and have access to some fantastic specialists here in the North East, so we can advise on what’s best for each patient and budget.
Do you offer emergency veterinary services, like an ambulance?
We can see emergencies, but if surgery or hospital treatment is needed then they will be advised to be seen at a veterinary hospital. Our van is a consulting room only and not an ambulance.
If your pet has a serious emergency, it’s likely that they will need full hospital treatment, which we cannot provide. That being said, we always try to leave at least one emergency slot each day for appointments needed at short notice.
Are there any limits to the homes you can visit?
Ideally, we would be able to park our van in a location close to the patient’s home for access. And we have a catchment area. Other than that, there aren’t really any limits to the homes we can visit. We do ask that we’re made aware of access restrictions, such as low bridges or parking constraints, as we have a large and high van.
And are there any limits in terms of the type of animal you can treat?
The vast majority of our patients are dogs and cats. We can see small furries (such as rabbits and guinea pigs) for basic vet care, but more exotic animals are best seen by specialist vets.
Our service is also not suitable for animals that are very difficult to handle, particularly those that show extreme aggression or are very territorial. Such animals are best handled at a hospital facility where there is a larger team of vets and nurses. And we do not attend whelpings; again, these are best dealt with at a practice with full hospital facilities.
Any tips for budgeting for vet bills?
To minimise your risk of being hit with a sudden, large vet bill, try:
- Joining a pet health plan. Many practices run these and they cover all your preventative healthcare costs via a monthly direct debit. We have our own Doorstep Health Plan, which includes an annual vaccination at home and all your flea/worm/tick treatments delivered to your door.
- Invest in a decent insurance policy that offers lifetime cover.
- OR have a substantial (at least four-figure) pot of savings that is readily available for your pet, should the need arise.
We appreciate times are tight, so we are currently running an introductory discounted consultation offer for new clients – details are available on our website.
Having been a vet for 20 years now, what advice would you give for keeping pets calm when receiving treatment?
Removing the time pressure helps enormously with this. Then I’d advise the following:
- Try to stay calm yourself. Pets are very perceptive and will pick up on an owner’s anxiety. Often pets are easier to examine without the owner present, so if you think you’ll struggle with keeping yourself calm, it’s probably best to hand your pet over into our capable hands!
- Prepare and think ahead. If your pet is anxious, we may need to muzzle them to examine them thoroughly and safely. We see so many animals that aren’t used to wearing muzzles. As an owner, you can help enormously by muzzle training at home – get your dog used to wearing it in non-threatening situations, using positive rewards (eg. by having peanut butter smeared inside!), so they don’t associate the muzzle with being at the vets.
- Talk to us. Performing basic healthcare is really important for the welfare of your pet. Please don’t let your pet’s behaviour put you off seeking help. There are ways we can support you and them and, together, we can come up with a plan.