Information – The Currency of Veterinary Medicine
Pet owners are looking for veterinary care across the entire spectrum of what’s available. Some want what is the current "state of the art" regardless of price and prognosis. Others think spending thousands on a pet that has been diagnosed with a terminal disease is crazy. The problem, from a veterinarian’s point of view, is that we need to give the same information to both.
I try to inform my clients about the range of options available to them, but unless I’ve worked with the owner before, I’m bound to rub someone the wrong way at one end of the spectrum or the other. If I’m dealing with an "it’s just an animal" type and mention the option of chemotherapy for cancer treatment, I’ll likely get a "you’re just in it for the money" look. When I bring up euthanasia as an option to a "let’s do everything possible" client, I may be accused of giving up too soon. Most pet owners fall somewhere between these two extremes. They are interested in hearing what’s available to them, but will quickly exclude those alternatives they deem unreasonable.
I bring this up because I hear a lot of owners complaining about what their primary care veterinarians did or did not recommend in the way of treatment. Criticisms tend to fall into one of three categories:
1. My veterinarian mentioned an advanced treatment that I can’t afford or don’t feel is reasonable given the circumstances, and now I’m worried that he/she is just looking to profit from my pet’s condition or won’t support my decision to take a less aggressive course of action.
2. My veterinarian didn’t tell me that [insert treatment type here] was even a possibility, and I might have been interested in pursuing it even though it’s untested and/or expensive.
3. My veterinarian gave me a laundry list of options and I feel overwhelmed. I wish he/she would just tell me what I should do.
Can you see that, in many cases, there is no way for a veterinarian to avoid falling into one of these three pitfalls? We tell you about all of your alternatives and we fall into scenario three. We do some selective weeding out of what we don’t think is reasonable given the circumstances, and we can be accused of not giving you all the information you need.
In my opinion, veterinarians have to tell owners what ALL the options are, even when we risk offending certain clients by bringing up bare-bones or cutting-edge alternatives or overwhelming them with a "data dump." After the information is out there, we can help you choose between what is available by discussing cost, prognosis, potential side-effects, etc., but we can’t make the decision for you. The "what would you do if it were your pet, Doc?" question is unanswerable in all but the most cut and dry situations. Every person’s combination of past experiences, tolerance for bad outcomes, willingness to expend time and energy, finances, etc., is unique to them.
So try to have patience with your veterinarian if he or she brings up treatment options that you think are not worthy of consideration. The doctor is probably just trying to make sure that you have all the information you need to make the decision that is right for you and your pet.
Dr. Jennifer Coates