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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Call from our doctor, just to check on us

We like our dog (Suey), and our cat, but we are not "dog people", and this is not really a post about our dog.

In the past couple weeks though, we had the experience of our dog getting sick, going to her doctor, getting diagnosed with a treatable condition, getting treated with antibiotics, having an unexpected negative reaction to the medicine, and getting follow up treatment and advice.

The reason I'm bothering to write about this experience is that at several points along the way, my wife and I realized that the level of care and attention Suey (pictured on the left, reading a book) was getting was eerily better than the level of care the humans in our family get from our medical providers, in just about every way.

The cherry on top was the call I got this morning from Dr. Horowitz's assistant, Nancy, who called us, unsolicited, to check in on how our dog was doing 2 days after we took her off the antibiotics as the doctor suggested. I was in shock -- she was calling to check in to make sure Suey was fine. I asked a couple questions, she didn't know the definite answer, so she put the doctor on the phone to explain what the symptoms would look like if the antibiotics hadn't completely worked. The whole exchange took less than 5 minutes, and left me thinking again that this is how we should feel when we take our kids to the pediatrician about our problem.

I actually like our pediatrician, and my primary care physician, but can you remember the last time your doctor called you to check in on your health after a visit to his/her office? I don't, because it has never happened.

And to be clear, it wasn't just one call from the vet that impressed me, it was a recurring pattern of interest, concern, follow up, and willingness to engage with us to find a solution. Very different from what we've grown to expect from human medical care. And this isn't a small veterinary practice for pampered pooches -- they run a kennel, and have hundreds if not thousands of pets they serve, and their rates are not outrageous.

As our President embarks on a mission (with an appearance in Wisconsin yesterday) to overhaul our medical system, I hope someone asks that question -- how can we reach a level of satisfaction from our human medical providers that we get from our pet providers?

I'm not a health and medical policy wonk like I am about education policy, but I'm betting part of the answer is in the insurance system. No health insurance for pets, and lots of alternative providers creates consumer who make smart healthy choices and good competition between providers, who strive to serve their customers well.

Universal insurance coverage would be a great and fair next step to bring needed healthcare to so many poor and unemployed uninsured people. But to really fix our deep-rooted health and medical problems, we need to go beyond, and it should be part of the big-picture health discussion -- we need to create incentives and systems to get most of the US population making wiser food choices and becoming more active (just like we made it less likely someone will smoke themselves to death over the past 15 years).

Skyrocketing diabetes and obesity rates (childhood and adult) don't happen by accident -- it happens because it's easier and cheaper to buy soda and eat fatty sugary foods than not. Reversing the trend will be difficult, but is totally possible if there is the political will to regulate smartly and build in the right incentives for food/drink producers.

That's the only way we'll reach the goal of having affordable health care for all, and the benefits of achieving that (financial and quality of life) are huge.

George Cigale, gcigale@tutor.com