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A Veterinarian’s Perspective on Human Healthcare
With the role out of the new healthcare reform bill, I would like to provide readers with a letter I wrote and sent to President Obama on May 4th, 2011, before the reform bill was passed asking the President to look towards veterinary healthcare for a new and different perspective:
Dear Mr. President,
Much time has transpired since I first thought of reaching out to you. I am reluctant due to the overwhelming number of communications your staff must sift through daily, realizing that my message amongst thousands may not find its way to your attention. I certainly hope it does.
My concern is a perspective on healthcare that I fear is not being addressed. I sense you are trying to tell the American people that a new system based on an updated communications infrastructure will cost less and I absolutely agree. In fact, many other points you subtly allude to bear a striking resemblance to my own profession, veterinary medicine. The objective of this letter is simple and straight forward; if you do not have a member of the veterinary community on the “panel of medical professionals” you often speak of, I am compelled to get you to do so. My reasoning is that due to the lack of insurance companies and “big business” in my profession we have been following a model that not only bears a striking resemblance to your vision of healthcare but also at least in part may aid in paving the road of new ideas to transition into a new updated infrastructure in human medicine.
For example, because veterinary medicine is mostly a pay prior to services rendered business it becomes imperative to effectively discuss ALL options with the client so they can make an informed and intelligent decision on what medical choices to pursue. Cost of services becomes an enormous incentive to take the time to educate the client as well as include time to discuss pros and cons of the options available. This not only teaches one person but also becomes an incentive for the public to get educated. As I am sure you are aware, becoming educated about one’s own healthcare saves money. I see it first hand in the exam room every day.
Medicine is not about what is the right treatment for a particular illness. It is simply not that black and white. It is about what is right for an individual after considering medical, emotional, and financial aspects of that single patient. This may end up being difficult for the public to swallow but human medicine has become more about how long we live and not enough about how well we live. Quality of life is a term used every day in veterinary medicine and I often wonder why it is not the same with us in human medicine.
I realize a part of what I am eluding to would be a major shift in the human healthcare culture. It seems well overdue for a change in the culture of human medicine. Doctors don’t know their patient anymore and even that is a large part of diagnosis, treatment, and overall understanding of a person’s body and how it interacts with the environment affecting health or illness.
Other aspects of veterinary medicine can aid in the discussion of how to grow a new healthcare system in our country. Veterinary medicine now has insurance companies. The structure of relationships between client or patient and doctor and insurer are very different. In veterinary medicine people will search and choose an insurer. People have yet to completely understand the differences between insurance companies or the tiers of service they provide and charge for; and at this stage it doesn’t seem to matter. I am sure as more people get pet insurance they will begin to discuss, research, and choose insurers making insurance agencies compete for business. The important aspect of these relationships is that the veterinarian and patient choose what treatments to pursue. The client must pay some costs upfront and the remaining balance when services are rendered. The client submits the claim and bill to the insurance company and they are directly reimbursed. Although it is not a perfect scenario, it is an improvement on the human model, which is why it is used in veterinary medicine. I have pets getting MRIs and CT scans. It costs about $3,000-$4,000. This is a relatively reasonable cost when compared to human medeicine and it is for similar quality imaging technologies. Remember, this cost actually includes a pet under anesthesia, as they MUST be under anesthesia for these procedures so that they remain motionless during the imaging process. People do not need that for their imaging and thus the revenue would be more in human medicine for these procedures as I attempt to compare apples to apples. My assumption in this consideration is that some of the costs for services in human medicine are exorbitant. This is a direct result of people not having to consider financial options prior to running diagnostic tests in human medicine. If we allow true competition in human medicine, a surgery or other procedures would not cost $50,000; instead it would have to become proportionate to what the public is able and willing to pay. Some might argue that this will reduce the quality of human medicine. I disagree. I believe it will increase the quality of life because the relationship between doctor and patient would grow much stronger out of mere necessity, improving preventative medicine.
There are many more perspectives from veterinary medicine that I strongly believe should be considered during the era of new medicine for our country moving forward. I haven’t run any polls, but I can tell you that many people express to me that their pet gets better care than they do. Veterinarians build relationships. It is a prerequisite to practicing in our profession, and people feel the difference and like it. Why shouldn’t our physicians have the same relationships with us?
As I am sure if this communication in fact reaches you, and you have read it in its entirety, then I must be taking up too much of your time. I can only hope you already have a veterinarian on staff to add an invaluable perspective on healthcare. If not, please consider doing so as I believe it will help transform human medicine into a more productive, effective, and efficient profession and system for us all.
Matthew Steinberg, DVM
I hope that you visit our blog and new website often and contact us whenever you have any questions. I have a few questions about how you feel about this letter. Let us know on our blog!
1. Do you feel your pet gets better medical attention than you do?
2. How is your relationship with your own doctor?
3. Does your veterinarian know your pet better than you know your primary care physician?
4. Does your veterinarian know you better than your primary care physician?
5. Would you be more cautious if you knew you would have to pay all your own medical expenses and then wait to get reimbursed?
Please let us know how you feel on our blog and feel free to review West Hills East Veterinary Clinic and our staff on any of the sites below!