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.