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Become a Pet-Centered Practice

The Third Wave in Veterinary Medicine - the Pet Centered Practice
Excerpts from Michael Haas, DVM, AVH Veterinary Group, Bangor, Pennsylvania


Have you ever spent a moment imagining what our patients experience when they visit any of our facilities. What are they thinking?  What are they feeling? We focus our efforts on their physical pain in order to make a diagnosis and enact a proper treatment plan, but how much consideration do we give to the emotional aspects of our patients’ visit? With today’s pell-mell pace of practice it’s easy to lose sensitivity to how the patient may be viewing his visit as we go about our task of diagnosing and treating the physical problems. 

 

Forty years ago a veterinarian had to do little more than put up a shingle and he was inundated with business. Practices were generally small and somewhat homey places. A bond between the practitioner, the client and their pet was easily maintained. In fact, our profession and our practitioners were grounded in that relationship to such an extent that no label such as “human animal bond” was necessary or utilized - it was taken for granted. Everyone just assumed that Doc loves animals. In fact, no assumption need be made. The pet owner could intuitively experience Doc’s spirit and compassion. 

Imagine (or remember) what it was like to run a practice when there was little overhead in equipment, no OSHA regulations, vague labor laws, and little inventory management. A veterinarian really could focus on the patient!  The veterinary facility was a small operation, the support staff had fewer duties and the veterinarian, with a paucity of weapons in his armamentarium with which to fight disease, relied more on bed-side manner and utilized a more tactile approach in his administrations.

 

Compassion Deficit?

Knowledge and technology have exploded in the ensuing decades and as 21st century veterinary physicians we now have access to oceans of information and incredible tools to aid in patient care. We can offer our patients so much more in effective medical and surgical care than our colleagues of decades past but this progress has come at a cost. When I compare this empirical, detached attitude, so common today, with the empathy of our predecessors, I become a bit nostalgic. How much of this detached aloofness has now set seed even in today’s general practices? 

 

These issues were on my mind last August when I attended the PVMA meeting in Hershey. I went specifically for three days of lectures on behavior by Rolan Tripp, DVM, founder of www.AnimalBehavior.Net. You may have seen some of Dr. Tripp’s published works or caught him on Animal Planet. The primary focus of his lectures was how to build behavior care into the general practice.

 

Rolan is an extremely engaging speaker. The first lectures, as evidenced by a hand count, were attended mostly by technicians and assistants. As the sessions went on, word got out – each succeeding lecture brought more and more people until, by the end of the second day, the room was SRO. As Rolan spoke, what I heard beneath the advertised topic was a unique practice approach.

 

If the “old days” featured the “vaccine practice,” and the second wave during the 1990’s saw our profession move toward the “client focused practice” with separate dog and cat reception areas, coffee in the waiting room, etc., where the progressive practice is moving in the 21st century is toward the “the third wave” or “the pet-centered practice.” The crux of this concept is the enhancement of our clients’ relationships with their pets.  Yes, of course we should be addressing behavioral issues involving our patients, but more than that it is incumbent upon us to set the proper example by engaging them in the most positive ways while they visit and reside in our facilities.    

 

Rolan Tripp, DVM. obtained his veterinary degree from U. C., Davis in 1979 after attaining an undergraduate degree in music. His minor in college was in philosophy with a special focus on ethics and logic. His interest in animal behavior developed after discovering that behavior is the most common concern for pet owners, and the most common cause of euthanasia in pets.  Dr. Tripp would approach the subject of developing the pet-centered practice detailing the roles of each member of the veterinary staff.

Receptionists would learn how to instruct clients on the telephone to prepare for their visit so as to reduce the stress on their pets and even make the experience enjoyable.  They would also learn behavior techniques that could be utilized to get dogs to sit during the weigh-in and to manage barking or confrontations between pets in the reception area.  

Veterinarians, technicians and assistants would learn how to make the best first impression with the pet. Distraction techniques for unpleasant procedures and restraint procedure for tame, fractious and downright wild patients would be addressed.  We would also learn to recognize all-important body-language signals from our patients – submissive, fearful and aggressive postures. As long-time practitioners we read these messages almost instinctively, but how well do we teach our staff to know what the patient is communicating? 

The kennel team will learn how to reduce stress in hospitalized patients, feeding techniques that keep dogs engaged and how to recognize behavior cues that indicate pain or stress, as well as techniques for safe animal handling. We could also cover the integration of puppy kindergarten and adult behavior classes if you don’t already operate these in your hospital, and secrets to improve the classes if you do. 

Rolan has also developed a system that allows the general practitioner to incorporate behavior medicine into the practice, or to augment a program that is already in place. Utilizing an on-line consultation and library system (AnimalBehavior.Net), the veterinarian can become involved as much or as little as she likes while solving clients’ behavioral concerns. I see such a meeting as extremely rewarding and full of immediately applicable knowledge and techniques. I attended the PVMA meeting with two of our staff members and we put some new procedures into place immediately and saw very positive results right away. Our staff loves this approach and they truly get greater enjoyment from the work day. Clients are pleased when they see their pet actually enjoy the visit rather than responding to doctor and staff member with fear.   

 

I can’t say that we no longer have frightened patients but I can tell you that we have won over many that in the past would have put us on their fecal roster. A group meeting would also be an opportunity for our staffs to get together and exchange experiences, ideas and war stories.

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