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Vet Says We Should "Treat People Like Dogs"

by John Asante
Mar 11, 2010

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It goes without saying that the ongoing health care debate has played host to all sorts voices over the past year. Politicians, news analysts, and your best friend's mom believe they know how the people of America should receive treatment. And at times, all the lingo (public option, overhaul, legislation, etc.) can leave one muddled and lost. But as I perused through Newsweek this morning, I was both surprised and intrigued by a new spin on how to handle health care — from a vet.

Dr. Karen Oberthaler of NYC Veterinary Specialists, suggests that we treat people like dogs. Well, not like dogs, necessarily, but similar to the way vets treat their furry, scaly, and somewhat smaller patients. She notices that oftentimes, "expensive procedures are tried simply so medical providers can cover themselves against potential lawsuits from bereaved family members who want to make sure everything possible was done."

The veterinary oncologist realizes that while pet lovers will drop upwards of $10,000 to save a cat or a ferret, we tend to deal with our parents and grandparents — the ones that brought us into this world — in a much more important way. Alas, there are lessons to be learned for the human health care system, she says:

While pet insurance exists, only roughly 3 percent of owners carry it; even then, clients pay a substantial portion of costs themselves. That means they usually want to know the rationale behind each test. I explain what I think is going on, what I want to look for, and which tests I need to perform to find it. I rank the diagnostics from most to least essential and lay out approximate costs. My clients then choose what they want done, with an understanding of the relative importance, risk, and cost of each option. This step-by-step approach may seem time-consuming, but it dramatically reduces the number of expensive, unnecessary tests. And the process is more gratifying.

Oberthaler isn't subject to astringent malpractice lawsuits or the amount of paperwork as doctors for humans. But if doctors suggested a course of treatment to relieve pain instead of battling a disease altogether, she thinks treating a significant other like Fido might be cheaper and more efficient than ever before.

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