Archive for the ‘Reasonable Expectations Series’ Category

Reasonable Expectations X: Saving the Best for Last!

February 18, 2011

This will be my tenth and final blog post describing reasonable expectations as they pertain to delivery of veterinary care (parts one through nine can be found at www.speakingforspot.com/blog).  This time, however, the tables will be turned- rather than describing what is reasonable for you to expect of your veterinarian, I am going to discuss what is reasonable for your veterinarian to expect of you!      

© Juli Dell'Era

Here are a dozen reasonable expectations.  By complying with as many as possible, not only will your vet and the hospital staff sing your praises, your efforts will directly benefit your pet’s health- and nothing is more important than that.       

  1. Arrive on time for your appointment. This means being present in the waiting room, not hanging out in the car finishing up your cell phone conversation or meandering with your dog outside the building (please read below about the importance of arriving with a full bladder, your dog’s that is). When you arrive late, not only will you and your pet be shortchanged on time spent with the vet, there’s a chance the staff will remain behind schedule for the rest of the day.  If you and your pet are new to the practice plan on arriving 10 to 15 minutes early to fill out necessary paperwork and be sure to bring all prior medical records including X-rays, ultrasound reports, and laboratory test results. (Old invoices are no substitute for the medical record). If you are tempted to arrive late because your vet consistently runs late, call ahead and chat with a front office staff member who will know if it’s “safe” to arrive after the scheduled appointment time. 
  2. If you suspect your pet has a contagious disease such as an upper respiratory infection, forewarn the staff.  For the sake of other patients in the waiting room, they may recommend that your little snookums remain in the car until it is time for the doc to see you.
  3. Unless instructed otherwise, do your best to bring your pet in with an empty stomach and a full bladder. This means taking the litter box away a couple hours ahead of time and foregoing the popular doggie p-mail spots outside the clinic.  Your vet may want a urine sample for testing and if procedures are recommended, better that breakfast was skipped.  Don’t worry, your dog or cat is unlikely to urinate on the hospital floor and if it does happen, guaranteed there’s a mop in every hospital!
  4. Please turn off your cell phone.  Not only is the ringing phone a distraction, answering it while in the midst of conversation with your vet conjures up adjectives I’d best not mention.
  5. Come prepared to provide a thorough history.  Believe it or not, your observations may provide more clues for a correct diagnosis than the actual physical examination.  In fact a solid history can make the difference between having to run one diagnostic test or five. Do some sleuthing around the home front to make sure there’s nothing unusual your dog or cat may have been exposed to. Your vet will want to know if you’ve observed any vomiting, abnormal stools, coughing, sneezing, decrease in stamina, or change in bladder or bowel habits.  If you don’t deal with “poop patrol” talk to the family member who does!
  6. Bring along all of your pet’s current medications (including supplements, flea control products, and heartworm preventive) so your vet can confirm that everything is as it should be.  At a minimum bring along a written list of what you are giving your pet including the name, strength and frequency of any medications- not just a visual description of the tablet. (Many medications come in the form of small, round blue pills!). Yes, the information is in the medical record, but, you’d be surprised by how often discrepancies are discovered.
  7. Know the name(s) of what you are feeding; in fact bring along a label just in case.  It’s remarkable how often clients can describe the appearance of the bag or wrapper “to a tee”, but for the life of them, cannot remember the name of the product. If the diet is homemade, bring along a copy of the recipe.
  8. Do your best to directly answer the questions asked by your veterinarian, without a lot of embellishment.  For example, if your vet asks if you have been filling the water bowl any more or less than usual, your answer should begin with “Yes,” “No,” or, “I don’t know.” “I give her only bottled water.” or “She absolutely adores water.” is not the answer your vet is looking for.
  9. If your pet is sick, try to have all the decision-makers present at the time of the office visit.  If this is difficult to arrange, the person present should take notes, and even consider audio-recording the conversation.  This is useful since details inevitably get lost in translation, especially when traveling from spouse to spouse!
  10. By all means, let the staff know if your pet is aggressive.  All animals are capable of unpredictable behavior.  A savvy veterinary staff can usually peg aggressive dogs and kitties within seconds of meeting them.  Occasionally one surprises us and bites or scratches- either a staff member or the client.  Everyone feels terrible but it’s made far worse when we learn that the client knew it could happen, but failed to warn us.
  11. Yes, I know it can be awkward, but I strongly encourage you to discuss your financial concerns before services are provided. When it comes to ways to pay your bill, there is no standard veterinary clinic menu, though most accept cash, credit/debit cards, and checks.  Do your homework to find out which ones apply to your facility. What receptionist hasn’t heard, “What do you mean, you don’t take Discover?” 
  12. Treat the entire staff well.  I get really peeved when I learn that a client, who has been sweet as can be with me, has been abrupt, condescending, or rude to one of my staff.  Keep in mind that everyone who works in the veterinary clinic plays an important role in keeping your pets healthy.   They all deserve to be treated with equal respect and without a doubt, the entire staff will know if this has not been the case. 

There, I’ve done it!  I’ve said what all vets long to tell their clients, and I sure as heck hope you’re not offended! Do you think these are reasonable expectations?  Are there others worthy of adding to the list?      

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook      

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

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Reasonable Expectations IX: Discussion With Your Vet About What Your Dog or Cat Should Be Eating

January 28, 2011

This is the ninth part of an ongoing series describing how people are developing new expectations when it comes to veterinary care for their pets. Parts one through eight can be found at www.speakingforspot.com/blog.

 

I’ll be straight with you- I’ve been procrastinating writing this blog for a long time. Every time I think about it, I get a queasy feeling in my stomach.  It’s not because I don’t think it’s reasonable for you to discuss your pet’s nutrition with your veterinarian.  It’s super easy for your vet to advise you when to transition from puppy/kitten formulas to adult foods, and if your pet is too fat or too thin and what to do about it. It’s the question of what to feed your beloved four-legged family member that has prevented me from getting excited about sinking my teeth into this blog (pun intended).  For many veterinarians, myself included, this has become a complicated issue and, in some cases, a no-win situation. Consider the following factors and you’ll understand my “dis-ease” with this topic.  When it comes to pet nutrition many people, veterinarians included, hold tenaciously to one or more of the following convictions:

• Processed pet foods (kibble and canned foods) are the best way to ensure balanced nutrition.
• Processed pet foods are the devil incarnate.
• Home-cooked diets are the best way to feed a pet.
• Home-cooked diets are not nutritionally balanced.
• Raw diets promote the best health.
• Raw diets have the potential to transmit serious infectious diseases not only to the pet, but also to the human handling the food and the feces.
• Dogs and cats should eat the same foods every day.
• Dogs and cats should eat a variety of foods.

Now here’s the icing on the cake.  Most veterinarians, myself included, are not nutritionists.  Yes, we understand the benefits of altering diet content to treat disease (a low protein diet is best for kidney failure, novel protein diets may benefit animals with food allergies, avoid salty foods for patients with heart failure), but show us the label from a can of Aunt Hattie’s Healthy Hound Hash (I hope and pray there really is no such product!) that has miraculously enhanced your dog’s vim and vigor, and we won’t be able to tell you with 100% certainty that Aunt Hattie is making a good product. An AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) seal of approval on the label is reassuring, but not all manufacturers of well balanced diets have gone through the AAFCO approval process.  And there are those who believe that AAFCO labeling is meaningless in terms of assuring good quality. We can enlist help from a board certified veterinary nutritionist to review the label, but this can be an expensive and cumbersome process. To make matters more complicated there is a constant and steady stream of new pet food manufacturers all vying for your pet’s grocery money.

Now can you understand why even thinking about this blog gives me a headache?  Truth be told, I believe I’ve seen examples of the good and the bad that can accompany every genre of pet food.  Dogs and cats have been eating processed foods for decades, yet we all recall the 2007 melamine pet food recall. Do you remember how shocked we were to learn that so many different brands of processed foods were manufactured in the same location?  I’ve seen damage caused by raw diets- infectious diseases and gastrointestinal bone foreign bodies.  I’ve also observed profound improvement in patients’ symptoms in response to the introduction of raw food (when I certainly couldn’t figure out how to make the symptoms disappear by other means).  I’ve seen pathologic bone fractures because of unbalanced homemade diets.  Likewise, I’ve met animals who appeared overtly healthy in spite of eating nothing but an unbalanced homemade diet for years.

So, what’s the answer here? What is a veterinarian supposed to say when their clients ask, “What should I be feeding my dog?” and “What should I be feeding my cat?” As tends to be my style, this blog has gone on a bit too long (you supposedly lose your ability to concentrate after 400-500 words).  So let’s do this- let me know how you think a veterinarian should answer the question of what to feed your pet and I will post a follow-up blog letting you know how I work with this complicated question.  I can’t wait to hear what you have to say!

Best wishes, 

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook  

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

Reasonable Expectations VIII: Written Cost Estimates

January 8, 2011

This is the eighth part of an ongoing series describing how people are developing new expectations when it comes to veterinary care for their pets. Parts one through seven can be found at www.speakingforspot.com/blog.

You’ve just taken your best buddy to see your veterinarian because he’s been vomiting for three days and is now beginning to refuse his food. Your vet performs a thorough physical examination with all normal findings, so she recommends blood tests along with X-rays of your dog’s belly.  If these tests don’t provide a diagnosis, she tells you that the next recommended step would be abdominal ultrasound.  Of course you want to proceed with this testing because your dog is a beloved family member and you want him to get better, but do you know how much the recommended diagnostics will cost?  Will you be charged $300, $800,  $1,300? Unless your dog is a “repeat offender” how in the world could you possibly know? Three hundred dollars might be completely within your budget; whereas $1,300 might mean coming up short on your mortgage payment.

Whether you are independently wealthy, barely making ends meet, or somewhere in between, know that it is perfectly reasonable to request a written cost estimate from your veterinarian before services are provided.  Why must you be responsible for asking- shouldn’t your vet automatically offer forth a written cost estimate?  Much to my chagrin, I must tell you that only the minority of vets voluntarily provide written estimates. This was documented by veterinarian/researcher, Dr. Jason Coe and his colleagues. Their research appeared in 2009 within the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.  The article titled, “Prevalence and Nature of Cost Discussions During Clinical Appointments in Companion Animal Practice” documented the following:

• Actual cost is addressed in only 29% of veterinary appointments.
• When cost is discussed, 33% of the time it is the client and not the veterinarian who initiates the discussion.
• Talk related to cost information constitutes a mere 4.3% of the total dialogue time.
• Written cost estimates are discussed during 14% of appointments.
• Written cost estimates are actually prepared and delivered to the client in only 8% of appointments.

Dr. Coe’s research certainly supports the notion that veterinarians are squeamish when it comes to discussing fees for their service.  I must admit it is certainly one of the least favorite parts of my job.  Nonetheless, I consistently provide written cost estimates, particularly if I’ve recommended something other than a single treatment or test, in order to avoid communication snafus and clients who are disgruntled when it comes time to pay their bill. 

Why is a written estimate preferable to a verbal estimate? Written estimates require time and focus. Guaranteed such estimates are far more likely to be accurate than those prepared by the vet using mental math while “on the fly”.  Additionally written estimates avoid uncomfortable conversations such as, “You told me it would be $100, not $300……..” and, “But you never told me you were going to do that……”.   So, please don’t encourage your vet to simply give you a “ballpark estimate” or an estimate “off the top of his or her head.”   I avoid providing such guesstimates at all costs (no pun intended).  Try as I might, I invariably lowball such estimates because of my innate desire to make the cost for my client as reasonable as possible.  And when this happens I end up cutting corners (not a good thing for the patient) and/or having to make uncomfortable phone calls advising clients of added expenses (and I definitely get called into the principal’s office).

It is completely reasonable to receive a written cost estimate before services are provided, but keep in mind, you may need to be the one who initiates this process!  With written estimates everybody wins- communication is so much clearer and there are no surprises when it comes time to collect fees.  Additionally, a written cost estimate provides an itemization for you of everything that is planned for your pooch. Have you received estimates from your veterinarian?  If so have they been delivered verbally or in writing?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook 

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

Reasonable Expectations VII: Discussion and Open-Mindedness About Your Dog’s Vaccinations

December 27, 2010

This is the seventh part of an ongoing series describing how people are developing new expectations when it comes to veterinary care for their pets. Parts one through six can be found at www.speakingforspot.com/blog

As invaluable as vaccinations are for protecting canine health, determining which vaccines are appropriate and how frequently they should be administered are no longer simple decisions. Gone are the days of behaving like  “Stepford wives” simply because you’ve received a vaccine reminder postcard or email. Vaccinations are no different than any other medical procedure.  They should not be administered without individualized discussion with your veterinarian and consideration of the potential risks and benefits. Please know that having such a discussion with your veterinarian is a perfectly reasonable expectation, and your input is an invaluable part of the vaccine decision-making process.

Consider the following:

• There are currently more than a dozen canine vaccinations to choose from! Back in the days when I was just a pup there were only five, and decision-making regarding vaccine selection for an individual dog was far less complicated.
• Over the past decade we’ve learned that, for some vaccines, the duration of protection is far longer than previously recognized.  In the past we vaccinated against distemper, parvovirus, and rabies annually.  We now know that these vaccinations, when given to adult dogs, provide protection for a minimum of three years and, in some cases protection is life-long.
• The duration and degree of immune protection triggered by a vaccine is variable, not only based on vaccine manufacturer, but from dog to dog as well.
• Other than for rabies (state mandated), vaccination protocols are anything but standardized. There are no set rules veterinarians must follow when determining which vaccines to give and how often they are administered. Unfortunately, some vets continue to vaccinate for distemper and parvovirus annually even though we know that these adult vaccines provide protection for a minimum of three years.  Some vets give multiple inoculations at once, others administer just one at a time.
• Increasingly clear-cut documentation shows that vaccines have the potential to cause many side effects.  While vaccine reactions/complications are still considered to be infrequent, they can be life threatening.

What you can do:

As your dog’s savvy medical advocate, what can you do to be sure that he or she is neither under or overvaccinated? Here are some guidelines for making wise vaccine choices for your best buddy:

1.  Educate yourself about available canine vaccinations and the diseases they are capable of preventing (in some cases treating the disease, should it arise, might be preferable to the risks and expense associated with vaccination). Learn about duration of vaccine protection and potential side effects.  Read the chapter called “The Vaccination Conundrum” in Speaking for Spot. It provides detailed discussion about all aspects of canine vaccinations including the diseases they prevent, adverse vaccination reactions, and the topic of vaccine serology (blood testing that helps determine if your dog is truly in need of vaccine booster). The American Animal Hospital Association’s “Canine Vaccine Guidelines” is also an excellent source of information (http://secure.aahanet.org/eweb/dynamicpage.aspx?site=resources&webcode=CanineVaccineGuidelines).
2.  Talk with your veterinarian to figure out which diseases your dog has potential exposure to.  A miniature poodle who rarely leaves his Manhattan penthouse likely has no exposure to Lyme disease (spread by ticks); however a Lab that goes camping and duck hunting may have significant exposure.
3.  Alert your veterinarian to any symptoms or medical issues your dog is experiencing.  It is almost always best to avoid vaccinating a sick dog — better to let his immune system concentrate on getting rid of a current illness rather than creating a vaccine “distraction.” If your dog has a history of autoimmune (immune-mediated) disease, it may be advisable to alter his vaccine protocol or even forego ongoing vaccinations — be sure to discuss this with your vet.
4.  Let your vet know if your dog has had vaccine side effects in the past. If the reaction was quite serious, she may recommend that you forego future vaccinations, necessitating an official letter to your local government agency excusing your pup from rabies• related requirements.
5.  Talk to your veterinarian about vaccine serology.  This involves testing a blood sample from your dog to determine if adequate vaccine protection still exists (remember, vaccine protection for the core diseases lasts a minimum of three years).  While such testing isn’t perfect, in general if the blood test indicates active and adequate protection, there is currently no need for a vaccine booster. Serology may make more sense than simply vaccinating at set intervals.
6.  Talk to your veterinarian about the potential side effects of proposed vaccinations, what you should be watching for, and whether or not there are any restrictions for your dog in the days immediately following vaccination.

What happens if your veterinarian declines vaccine discussion and simply wants to vaccinate based on what he or she thinks is appropriate?  Time to find yourself a new veterinarian who is progressive enough to have a working relationship with people who choose to be a stellar medical advocates for their dogs!  Is your vet willing to have open-minded discussion with you about your dog’s vaccinations?

Best wishes for a happy new year.   

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook 

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

Reasonable Expectations VI: The Ability to Discuss Your Internet Research With Your Vet

December 7, 2010

This is the sixth part of an ongoing series describing how people are developing new expectations when it comes to veterinary care for their pets. Parts one through five can be found at http://www.speakingforspot.com/blog.  Please take your time with this one- I realize it is a lengthy post, but there is a great deal to say about this worthwhile topic!

When your beloved pet develops a medical issue, chances are you’ll be inclined to do some Internet research and then talk with your vet about what you’ve learned.  Know that having this discussion with your vet is a perfectly reasonable expectation as long as you are careful to avoid using valuable office visit time discussing “whackadoodle” notions gleaned from cyberspace.  Here are some pointers to help you find instructive, accurate, worthwhile Internet information while avoiding “online junk food”. By the way, although I’m a veterinarian teaching people how to better care for their furry and feathered family members, please know that this information also applies to your own health care.

So, let’s begin.  How can you determine whether or not a website is dishing out information that is worthy of your time? Here are some general guidelines:

1.  Ask your veterinarian for her website recommendations.  She might wish to refer you to a specific site that will supplement or reinforce the information she has provided.

2.  Veterinary college websites invariably provide reliable information.  Search for them by entering “veterinary college” or “veterinary school” after the name of the disease or symptom you are researching.

3.  Web addresses ending in “.org,” “.edu,” and “.gov,” represent nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and governmental agencies, respectively.  They will likely be sources of objective and accurate information.

4.  If your dog has a breed-specific disease, pay a visit to the site hosted by that specific breed’s national organization.

5.  Avoid business-sponsored websites that stand to make money when you believe and act on what they profess (especially if it involves purchasing something).

6.  Be ever so wary of anecdotal information.  It’s perfectly okay to indulge yourself with remarkable tales (how Max’s skin disease was miraculously cured by a single session of aromatherapy), but view what you are reading as fiction rather than fact. 

7.  I really love disease-specific online forums.  Check out those sponsored by Yahoo (http://groups.yahoo.com).  Not only do many of them provide a wealth of educational information, members can be a wonderful source of emotional support- always a good thing for those of us who share our homes and hearts with an animal.  If you are considering joining an online forum, I encourage you to look for a group that focuses on a specific disease (kidney failure, diabetes, etc), has lots of members, and has been around for several years.  For example, an excellent Yahoo group AddisonsDogs has 3,391 members and has been up and running for eight years.  A large group such as this typically has multiple moderators who screen participants, screen comments to keep things on topic, present more than one point of view (always a good thing), and provide greater round-the-clock availability for advice and support.  Look for presentation of cited references (clinical research that supports what is being recommended). Such groups should have a homepage that explains the focus of the group and provides the number of members and posts per month (the more the better).  They may have public archives of previous posts that can provide a wealth of information.

I happen to enjoy hearing about what my clients are learning online.  I sometimes come away with valuable new information, and I’m invariably amused by some of the extraordinary things they tell me- who knew that hip dysplasia is caused by global warming!  Surf to your heart’s content, but be forewarned, not all veterinarians feel as I do.  Some have a hard time not “rolling their eyes” or quickly interrupting the moment the conversation turns to Internet research.  What can you do to realize the expectation of discussing your online research in a way that is neither irritating to your vet nor intimidating for you?  Listed below are some secrets for success:

-I may be preaching to the choir, but I cannot overemphasize the importance of working with a vet who is happy and willing to participate in two-way, collaborative dialogue with you (please reference my earlier blog about relationship centered care- http://speakingforspot.com/blog/?p=1174). Your opinions, feelings, and questions are held in high regard and enough time is allowed during the office visit to hear them. A veterinarian who practices this “relationship centered” style of communication is far more likely to want to hear about your online research than the veterinarian who practices “paternalistic care” (far more interested in telling you what to do than hearing about your thoughts, questions, or concerns).  Remember, when it comes to veterinarian/client communication styles, you have a choice. It’s up to you to make the right choice!

-Let your vet know that you appreciate her willingness and patience in helping you understand how best to utilize what you’ve learned online.

-Wait for the appropriate time during the office visit to discuss what you’ve learned on line.  Allow your veterinarian to ask questions of you and examine your precious poopsie rather than “tackling” her with questions and discussion about your Internet research questions the moment she sets foot in the exam room.

-Be brief and “to the point” with your questions.  Remember, most office visits are scheduled for 15 to 20 minutes, max.

-Let your veterinarian know that you’ve learned how to be a discriminating surfer!  You know how to differentiate between valuable online resources and “cyber-fluff”. You ignore anecdotal vignettes and websites trying to sell their products in favor of credible information provided by veterinary college sites and forums that are hosted by well-educated moderators who provide cited research references that support their recommendations.

-When you begin conversation about your Internet research, I encourage you to choose your wording wisely. Communicate in a respectful fashion that invites conversation as opposed to “telling” your vet what you want to do.

In the Internet, we have an extraordinary tool at our fingertips. I encourage you to be selective when choosing which websites you intend to take seriously and which ones you wish to visit for a good chuckle.  Approach conversations with your vet about your Internet research thoughtfully and tactfully.  These strategies are bound to facilitate constructive conversation and create a win-win-win situation- for you, your veterinarian and your beloved best buddy! 

Have you had conversation with your vet about your Internet research?  If so, how did it go?

Now here’s wishing you and your four-legged family members abundant good health.  

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook 

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller. 

Free holiday gift wrap with books purchased between now and December 25th (www.speakingforspot.com/purchase.html).

Reasonable Expectations V: Discussion of All Options Regardless of Cost

October 24, 2010

This is the fifth part of an ongoing series describing how people are developing new expectations when it comes to veterinary care for their pets. Parts one through four can be found at http://www.speakingforspot.com/blog.

Veterinarians wear many different hats when they are in the exam room. It’s a given they provide medical care for their patients. But did you realize that, for their clients they often assume the role of social worker, calendar planner, grief counselor, and even mediator when there are conflicting opinions between family members (mostly spouses)? Why on earth some veterinarians wish to also become financial planners for their clients is beyond me! These are vets who pick and choose which medical and surgical options to discuss based on what they think their clients can afford.

I don’t work this way- I believe in presenting every option that is reasonable for my patient and then letting my client determine what they can and cannot afford. This means that my client will hear all the same options whether he or she arrives at my hospital driving a Mercedes Benz sports car or a jalopy. The American Animal Hospital Association agrees with my modus operandi- they conducted a study documenting that ninety percent of people want their vets to present every option regardless of cost. Please hear what this is saying: it is perfectly reasonable for you to expect discussion of all options for your precious family member regardless of cost!

Let’s consider the example of a torn cruciate ligament. The knee joint contains cruciate ligaments that are responsible for keeping the upper leg bone (femur) in alignment with the lower leg bone (tibia). Cruciate ligament tears commonly occur in large breed dogs and there are several options for treating this injury. The least expensive option is rest and anti-inflammatory medications, the cost of which might be a few hundred dollars over the course of a several months. This nonsurgical least expensive approach restores mobility and use of the leg, but predictably results in arthritis within the knee and chronic lameness. The most expensive option is one of two highly specialized surgical techniques (referred to as TPLO and TTA) performed by board certified veterinary surgical specialists. Such surgery is the very best bet for restoring complete lifelong soundness to the knee. Depending on where the dog lives (everything is more expensive in California!) the cost for this surgery is $3,000-$4,000. Tack on post-operative rehabilitation therapy (on an underwater treadmill) and add another $500-$1,000 to your bill. The “in between options” include various surgical procedures that many general practitioners perform. While they are less expensive ($1,000 to $2,000) such surgery is less likely to result in an arthritis-free knee. Treatment of cruciate ligament disease is a clear example of, “You get what you pay for.”

Now there are a number of factors to consider when determining the best treatment option for a torn cruciate ligament. Perhaps the dog is ancient and debilitated and the risk for general anesthesia and surgery is too great. Perhaps there are other medical issues that are likely to be life ending soon- in this situation it would be irresponsible to choose surgery. There are many factors to consider, and finances may be one of them. But how would you feel if discussion of medical therapy for your dog’s cruciate ligament tear was purposefully withheld because your vet assumed you could afford surgery? Likewise, what if there was no discussion of referral to a surgical specialist because your vet felt it would be too much of a financial stretch for you? Do you want your veterinarian to be your financial planner or would you prefer to hear about all the options, then decide for yourself? Let me know how you feel about this. By the way, it might be wise to let your own veterinarian know as well!

Now here’s wishing you and your four-legged family members abundant good health.  

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook 

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller. 

You can support your favorite rescue group.  The Speaking for Spot Gives Back Program shares a portion of the sales proceeds with approved non-profit organizations when you purchase a book via the Speaking for Spot website and designate the organization at the time of purchase.

Reasonable Expectations Part IV: Communicating With Your Vet Via Email

September 27, 2010

This is the fourth part of an ongoing series describing how people are developing new expectations when it comes to veterinary care for their pets. Parts one through three can be found at http://www.speakingforspot.com/blog.

Have you any interest in emailing rather than calling your vet when you have questions? This is certainly a reasonable expectation assuming that your vet is willing to communicate online. Email communication with doctors is not a new concept.  The Kaiser Permanente “My Health Manager” program with an “email my doctor” feature has been wildly successful.  Not only are more and more patients using the program (and Kaiser is promoting it in their marketing ads), a study on more than 30,000 Kaiser Permanente patients with high blood pressure and/or diabetes documented that those who communicated via email with their physicians enjoyed better health outcomes! 

I recently surveyed 120 of my northern California colleagues about email communication with clients and here is what I learned from them:

•58% of the vets who responded are communicating with their clients via email
•62% of those who use email are selective- they do not provide email access to all of their clients
•26% of those using email set “ground rules” with their clients; interestingly, many commented that they strongly feel the need to set email ground rules, but have been too “wimpy” to do so
•Receptionists communicate with clients via email in 37% of the practices polled
•Technicians (nurses) communicate with clients via email in 21% of the practices polled
•95% of the veterinarians who use email reported it to be a mostly positive experience

The veterinarians using email unanimously reported that it is great for simple, non-urgent communications (emphasis on non-urgent). Just imagine every veterinarian’s nightmare- you check your email in the evening and find a message that is eight hours old from a client describing their pet who is struggling to breathe and has blue gums!  Vets using email enjoy the convenience- for many, not only is email less time consuming than telephoning (avoids phone tag), they can respond to emails at their convenience.  I can relate to this- I sometimes don’t finish up with my patients until 8:30 or 9:00 at night at which point I’m worried that it may be too late to return client phone calls. 

Along with the fear of not receiving urgent messages in a timely fashion, here’s what the vets I surveyed told me they do not like about email:

•Clients wanting a diagnosis via email rather than via an office visit
•No simple or easy process for transferring the email communication to the patient’s medical record
•Too time consuming for vets who have remedial word processing skills or feel the need to carefully edit their “written words”
•Clients who take advantage of the system and begin emailing too much and/or too often
•Receipt of “cutesy” emails (photos or stories that are incredibly cute, but only in the mind of the sender)

I happen to be a speed demon when it comes to word processing, and I would love the flexibility of communicating with my clients in the wee hours of the morning or late into the evening.  So why have I not jumped on the email bandwagon?  If you’ve read Speaking for Spot you know that communication between veterinarians and their clients is a topic near and dear to my heart.  So much of what is perceived during communication has to do with body language and voice inflection, neither of which can be perceived via email (unless I begin Skyping with my clients, God forbid!). I worry that, by using email, I will miss out on what’s happening emotionally for my clients. Even with this concern, the results of my survey have motivated me to dip my baby toe into the email whirlpool.  I think I will invite my clients to email me with really simple questions such as, “When am I supposed to bring Lizzie back in to see you?” or “Is it okay to give Radar his heartworm preventative along with the other medications you prescribed?”  Anything more than that, however, and I’ll be jumping back onto the phone in the blink of an eye. 

Do you communicate with your vet or your physician via email?  If so, what has the experience been like for you?

Now here’s wishing you and your four-legged family members abundant good health. 

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

You can support your favorite rescue group.  The Speaking for Spot Gives Back Program shares a portion of the sales proceeds with approved non-profit organizations when you purchase a book via the Speaking for Spot website and designate the organization at the time of purchase.

Reasonable Expectations Part III: Access to Round-the-Clock Care

September 12, 2010

This is the third part of an ongoing series describing how people are developing new expectations when it comes to veterinary care for their pets.Parts one and two can be found at www.speakingforspot.com/blog.

If your dog is sick enough to require hospitalization or has just undergone a major surgical procedure, how will he or she be cared for overnight and on weekends?  As much as the mere thought of this makes me cringe I must advise you that even though your dog or cat is “hospitalized”, in some veterinary clinics this will involve no supervision whatsoever from closing time at night (perhaps 6:00 PM) until early morning when the first employees arrive back at the hospital.  What if your dog manages to slip out of his Elizabethan collar and chews open his surgical incision? What if your kitty begins experiencing pain during the night?  What if your dog vomits and aspirates the material into his lungs? All these “what if’s” are what make me crazy whenever I think about a hospitalized animal left alone for 8 to 12 hours at a time.  And here’s what makes me even crazier- some people don’t think to even ask how their beloved family member will be supervised when the clinic is closed, likely because they cannot fathom the possibility that adequate supervision would not be provided.

Please know that it is perfectly reasonable for you to expect that your hospitalized family member receive round-the-clock care.  There are a few different ways this can happen.  While a 24-hour hospital staffed with a veterinarian is ideal, this simply does not exist in all communities (but if it does exist in your neck of the woods, by all means take advantage!).  Here are some other viable options:

-A veterinarian comes into the clinic multiple times during the night and on weekends to check on the hospitalized patients (some vets prefer to take their patients home with them to help make monitoring and supervision more convenient).

-A skilled veterinary nurse (technician) comes into the clinic multiple times during the night and on weekends to check on the hospitalized patients and has access to contacting the vet should the need arise.

-Your dog or cat comes home with you, but only after you receive thorough monitoring instructions along with a way to reach your vet should questions or concerns arise.  As scary as this might sound, this remains a better option than leaving your best little buddy left completely unsupervised overnight.  Just imagine how you would feel lying in a hospital bed, hooked up to intravenous fluids, and no one entering your room to check on you for twelve long hours!

How would your dog or cat be cared for overnight and on weekends should the need arise?  Please do tell.  And if you’re not sure, no time like the present to find out.

Now here’s wishing you and your four-legged family members abundant good health.

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

Reasonable Expectations Part II: Access to “The Back” of the Hospital

September 4, 2010

This is the second part of an ongoing series describing how people are developing new expectations when it comes to veterinary care for their pets.  Part one can be found at www.speakingforspot.com/blog

Care to tag along next time your pet is whisked to “the back” of the veterinary clinic for an injection, a diagnostic test, or a nail trim? Perhaps you are curious about what actually goes on “back” there. Maybe you believe that your best buddy will feel more secure if you are present.  Whatever the reason, know that  if you desire to go where your pet goes and see what your pet sees, this is a perfectly reasonable expectation in most circumstances.   Your request might be denied if: 

-Your pet is better behaved without you there (all vets have experienced aggressive patients in the exam room who become gentle as lambs when separated from their humans).

-There is something going on that is private (for example, a grieving client) or too graphic for you to see (trust your vet on this one).

-Your dog or cat will be in an area of the hospital that is off limits to humans. For example, in my hospital, in order to avoid radiation exposure, no one other than the patient is allowed in the room where X-rays are taken.  Gentle sand bags are used for restraint along with mild sedation if needed.

– The staff is aware that you have a lot to say and no one will be able to get anything done because they will be too busy responding to your questions. 

Admittedly, some vets simply don’t like having clients tag along.  If your doc falls into this camp, some patient persuading on your part may be necessary.  Provide reassurances that you will be on your best behavior and remind him or her that large animal vets do practically all of their work in front of their clients.  I happen to love when my clients wish to accompany me into the bowels of the hospital.  In fact, I find myself inviting them to follow more often than they think to ask.  I prefer they get a first hand look at what I am doing and seeing, rather than simply listening to my after-the-fact verbal description.  Admittedly, I’m proud of my facility and feel great when clients see our bustling staff, content patients in clean, comfy cages, and state of the art diagnostic and patient monitoring equipment. 

Before my clients step foot beyond the exam room, I gently coach them on the art of being unobtrusive- avoiding instructing nurses on how to restrain their pet and asking a bazillion questions while I am performing a procedure.  I always reserve the right to send clients back to the exam room if I perceive that their anxiety level is becoming contagious, and I describe in advance what they will be seeing.  This deters some, which is a good thing- nothing like a fainting or vomiting client to get the day off to an exciting start! 

Have you ever accompanied your dog or cat to “the back” of the hospital?  Was it a good experience for you?  How about for your pet?

Now, here’s wishing you and your four-legged family members abundant good health!

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Website: http://www.speakingforspot.com
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com  to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.

Reasonable Expectations

August 28, 2010

Never before, during my almost 30 years as a veterinarian, have I encountered such rapid and profound changes in client expectations. We’ve entered what I like to refer to as “The Age of the Empowered Client”. I’d love to believe that this is a result of so many people reading my book, Speaking for Spot. Alas, I must give credit where credit is due- namely, the worldwide web. Discuss a symptom with my clients and I’m no longer surprised when they pull out their printed list of the diseases Dr. Google feels might be responsible. Render a diagnosis and my client can surf the net to quickly find a plethora of others who have “been there, done that” and are willing to provide advice about how best to navigate any possible medical minefield.

Do I believe these changes in client expectations are a good thing? You betcha! As I convey in Speaking for Spot, my belief is that every animal needs an empowered, adept medical advocate by its side. Of course I want veterinarians to remain essential members of the health care team, but I love it when those at the other end of the leash (or monkey-wrenching their backs schlepping cat carriers) become the team captains!

Over the next several weeks I will write about several previously uncommon client expectations that are now becoming mainstream. They are reasonable expectations in that they ultimately serve what clients and veterinarians hold as common ground- namely, the best interest of the patient. Remember, change is not for everyone- not all veterinarians necessarily “embrace” these changing expectations. Some gentle patience and persistence on your part may be needed. If you find your vet isn’t willing to budge, for your pets’ sake, I encourage you to find a new teammate.

I’m going to describe my favorite client expectation first because, once this expectation is fulfilled, satisfaction of most others will naturally follow. So here we go.  It is perfectly reasonable for you to expect “relationship centered care” from your veterinarian. This is a style of communication in which your vet holds your opinions and feelings in high regard and enough time is allowed during the office visit to hear them. He or she recognizes the unique role your pet plays in your life and is a willing source of empathy and support. Rather than telling you what to do, vets who practice relationship centered care discuss the pros and cons of all options before making a recommendation. They believe in collaborative decision making. Compare this to “paternalistic care” in which the vet maintains an emotional distance and recommends only what they believe is best without consideration of the patient’s or client’s unique situation. There are no significant opportunities for discussion or collaboration.

Relationship centered care is not for everyone- some people truly prefer to be told what to do (certainly the way I feel when my car is in need of repair!). However, if you desire relationship centered care from your vet (or for that matter your own physician), please know that this is a completely reasonable expectation. How do you find a veterinarian who employs this style of communication? At the risk of tooting my own horn, the chapter called “Finding Dr. Wonderful and Your Mutt’s Mayo Clinic” in Speaking for Spot will tell you everything you need to know to fulfill this expectation.

Do you work with a vet who provides relationship centered care? What do you like about his or her communication style?

Now, here’s wishing you and your four-legged best friend abundant good health!

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Website: http://www.speakingforspot.com
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com  to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.