I have been practicing medicine for 30 years, and for all the ups and downs, joy and heartbreak, I wouldn’t change a thing. Being a veterinarian is a great profession and I’ve met so many amazing animals and made a lot of friends along the way. I know I am showing my age when I look at how things can change and think, “I’m glad I won’t be around when that happens!” But for most of my career I’ve been an agent of change, driven by a thirst for knowledge and dedication to providing the best level of care for my patients.
There are many game changers I’ve seen in my career that have drastically changed the level of care that veterinarians are able to give our patients. Advances in vaccine technology have made diseases like parvovirus and distemper almost a thing of the past. In-clinic testing helps us identify diseases immediately, and react appropriately, improving outcomes significantly. Along that line, the quality of results from in-house lab equipment is continuously improving. We can have a blood chemistry panel and CBC results in minutes.
The recent advances in the treatment of allergies in dogs is monumental in my opinion. Thirty years ago when an itching dog came in, our only tool was corticosteroids, and most of the time, prednisone. We had to make a decision to use a drug with short and long term side effects to afford our patient a decent quality of life. Now we have medications that relieve the itching without negative side effects to the patient (they do sting one’s pocket book a little!) Flea control was a discussion about using different toxins inside and outside your home and on your pet to try to treat infestations. The new generation of oral, parasite control medications kill fleas and ticks within 30 minutes. So much faster than any of the topical drops, and with very few side effects to the patient.
I can’t forget technology. I’m a closet nerd and love anything technological that improves patient care. I think the most important change for patient care is electronic medical records. As doctors are often accused, my handwriting is TERRIBLE. At the end of a 12-hour emergency shift, my records could become very difficult to read. There was one time when asked to read my own record, I even had trouble. Now anyone can read my records. Computerized records vastly improve patient care; one doctor can easily take over a case and information can be shared electronically between practitioners
I’m also a huge fan of imaging, radiography (x-rays) and ultrasonography. Digital technology has improved our ability to image our patients and share the images for consultation with specialists, again improving the level of care we are able to give our patients. It is now commonplace for most general practices to have an ultrasound machine. I love my ultrasound. As a general practitioner I can’t perform a scan equal to that of a radiologist, but I can find abnormalities like free fluid in the abdomen, fluid around the heart, masses on the major organs and bladder crystals and stones. This information can help guide recommendations for the best care without having to send the pet to a specialty practice.
I do have hesitation about the impending technological advance: veterinarians offering exams and prescribing treatment electronically. I am a firm believer that there is NO TEST better than a thorough physical exam. Examining a pet from the tip of its nose to the tip of its tail gives more information than any other test. Watching the nuances of the patient’s behavior while you listen to the owner tell you what’s been happening to cause the owner to be concerned enough to bring the pet in for an exam. I don’t know how that can translate digitally
We are now offering another service under the same umbrella of telemedicine: after-hours phone triage. When pet owners call WAH after hours, they have the option of leaving a message for our staff the next business day or speaking with a veterinary professional to discuss their pet’s case, at no charge. We want to give this extra level of care to help our clients know when and where they should take their patients in emergency situations. I hope none of you need this service, but am excited to add that extra level of care.
As usual, feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments: firstname.lastname@example.org, our Facebook page and wildernessvet.com.