Anyone who has ever taken a pet to the veterinarian has probably thought: geez, why can’t humans get health care like that? I mean, at the most basic level, vets are just cooler than MDs. Think of all the vets you’ve known in your life and then all the doctors: who would you rather hang with? Case closed.
But it’s more than that. Our older dog is now seeing a specialist, so we are having a good deal of exposure to the veterinary profession. This has placed the differences in stark contrast.
Both our regular vet and the specialist call us a day or two after each appointment just to see how our dog is doing. I’m not sure my PCP would know me if she ran into me at the Target the day after my annual physical. And I really do like my PCP; it’s just not part of the human medical culture to follow up.
The vet specialist also faxes a report to the regular vet after each appointment, and calls *him* to follow up. When I needed one doctor to send my file to another doctor a few years back — just send the damn file; no communication; no follow up — I had to make multiple phone calls and fill out multiple forms, and I still showed up at the second doctor’s office to find that no communication in any medium had occurred between the two doctors, their staff, or their file rooms.
And our vet appears to use computer technology from the post-1995 period. At a recent human medical appointment, the receptionist handed me a form when I checked in. I pointed out that none of the items on the form had changed since the last appointment. No good: “It’s a policy, we have to update our information.” But there’s nothing to update. “Sorry, it’s a policy. We require this form.” A form made of paper, from dead trees, which they expected me to interact with using primitive ballpoint technology. I pointed out that they had also every single piece of information requested on the form having photocopied my driver’s license and insurance card only moments ago, but I was instructed to please sit down and just fill out the form. After I filled out the top half, I handed it back and pointed out that since I was the insured, the information requested on the bottom half of the paper was already filled in on the top. Nope. Still not good enough. “The two halves of the form go to different places,” I was told, “You have to fill out both.” At about that moment, I looked at the receptionist’s computer and noticed: DOS. That’s right, green type on a black screen. In 2011. I can go up to a computer terminal at the Bed, Bath and Beyond and find out what wedding gifts my friends and family in distant cities have registered for, but MY DOCTOR is using DOS, and asking me to fill out identical information on the top and bottom halves of a piece of paper in much the way I filled out a field trip permission slip in 1971.
You can’t really do a head-to-head comparison of the financial aspect of human and dog care, because the veterinary industry lacks many of the important cutting edge features of the American human medical system: astronomical insurance company executive salaries; palatial insurance company corporate campuses; and cubical farms staffed with adjusters trained to deny your claims. So it’s not really fair to point out that the financial aspect of dog care is much simpler: after each appointment, we hand them our credit card and we’re done. But that is at least part of the point: the vet industry doesn’t have to support legions of insurance executives, so the amount we’re paying is a very small fraction of what our insurance company pays our doctors. And honestly, how different *is* a human body from a dog’s? We seem to have many of the same internal organs. Can human treatment really be that much more expensive? (This is where my brother will blame the lawyers. Love you, Bruce!)
Finally, of course, no matter how intrusive the medical procedure, I have *never* been offered a treat. Not once.
Ah, I love to watch a liberal fall headfirst into the free market economy……and enjoy it. It’s so much fun, I promise not to do as you said I would and point out that you fill out all those silly forms in triplicate because that’s what the lawyers told the practice they had to do. And, I will totally ignore the stuff about all the money going to high priced insurance execs, even though it ignores that fact that *all* the waste and abuse in healthcare costs are at CMS, not private insurance. No, I shall just sit back and bask in your discovery that when you take things away from government control, minimize regulation, and put buyers together with sellers in a free market, everybody usually ends up pretty darn happy. The invisible hand has given your tense neck muscles a nice massage!
Only one question: why were YOU filling out the field trip permission slips in 1971? Weren’t my aunt and uncle supposed to be doing that for you?
As for Bruce’s comment, I’m hoping he can explain in what way my doctor, who puts me through the same crap you (Amy) go through, is under government control. He (the doctor) kvetches to me about the insurance companies, not the government. Thank God I got a job in the People’s Republic of Madison, which provides (thank you, state government) my health insurance so I don’t have to pay $15,000 a year for it! Far as I can tell, the free market is making our lives miserable.
@ Bruce – it’s so much fun to disagree with someone who writes so well! I’m a big fan of the free market; I’m still waiting for an explanation of how an hourly employee with no employer health insurance pays for preventive care much less,say, chemotherapy. And the free market doesn’t explain why vets are cooler people or why my doctor is using DOS in 2011. 🙂
@ Dan – have you guys moved yet? Waiting for reports from the PRM!
Amy, on behalf of vets, I’m blushingly flattered, and agree w/many of your comments. One of my highest compliments for a physician is that they meet my “veterinary standard” of care – i.e., good listening, thorough exams and history taking, compassion shared via verbal or non-verbal communication! And it’s true – while children get lollypops, it’s only *after* they’ve been vaccinated and are crying, when they are as liable to throw it at you as put it in their mouths. I give the critters treats *as* I vaccinate them to both distract and counter-condition them. However, as a sibling of 3 MD’s, and a frequent consumer (or at least via my family) of human health care, I see and hear the many frustrations that they encounter from corporate medicine, insurance forms/standards/restraints, and, yes, their patients, too, who often demand miraculous cures for conditions that are often in no small part due to their own actions (or inactions). I get to spend anywhere from 20-40 minutes with my patients — my sister in family practice has to see patients in 10-15 minutes. That’s a huge difference. And of course, while my patients do occasionally bite or scratch, I also get to pet and cuddle a lot of them….sure makes my day better!
All the insurance issues aside, I still wouldn’t trade practicing Vet Med for any MD career!!
@ Liz – You’re right, of course. And the root problem may be with the patients: dogs are cooler than people, so not surprising that doctors who work with dogs are cooler, too. And I have met many wonderful docs, and do indeed love my pcp, despite the fact that she would not recognize me in the Target. But it’s also true that for every smooth (human) medical interaction, I can think of 2 or 3 awful ones. In 10 years with dogs, I can think of only one slightly negative vet experience: a mildly clueless vet, who is no longer with the practice. I’ve never had a vet refuse to listen to our concerns or (one of our worst family medical experiences) refuse to examine for a particular condition because “it’s not the reason the patient was admitted.” Patient went six months with an untreated broken femur because of that refusal. Seriously.
Can you tell that the unreformed brat in me was really annoyed at having to fill out the form?
Thank you. I couldn’t have said this better myself. In the past few yrs, I’ve started doing my own paper work. I have my own form with my current meds, past surgeries, date of birth, reason for this visit & what I expect, etc., etc. It really throws the staff. “What are we supposed to do with this”. Well, duh, read it. From now on I am going to also DEMAND a treat when I leave. You will probably then find me in the Denver County jail. Thanks so much for this blog.
You may not remember this (or maybe never knew it), but after Jenny (for non-family members–one of the dogs we had when Amy & Bruce were growing up) had to be euthanized at the advanced age of something like 17 or 18, her veterinarian made a contribution in her name to a vet research center at either at UVa or Blacksburg. Do people-docs contribute to, say, cancer research in the name of a patient of theirs who has died of cancer? I doubt it.
When our late beloved Lucy was just a tiny puppy, she had some terrible virus that nearly killed her. Our vet drew blood from her own dog to give Lucy, and even took Lucy home for a few nights to better care for her. What more is there to say? Except this, a note to Amy: As I’ve said before, dog-related postings are guaranteed to boost traffic.