I have witnessed the sad effects of the lack of verified understanding of instructions between pet owners and veterinarians both as a hospital clinician and working in the field as a housecall vet. The state of veterinary medicine with all its advancements to rival or even exceed human medical care is at a crossroads. The shortage of veterinarians and trained technicians, especially RVTs (Registered Veterinary Technicians) is taxing the ability to effectively manage health care in keeping up with demand from the public.
The biggest problem is not simply the lack of ongoing communication between the vet and the pet owner, it is the lack of verified understanding of follow-up needs, and the ability to correctly carry out the administration of medication, physical therapy, dietary recommendations and timely recheck exams. We as veterinary care providers want to cure ailments and at least keep chronic conditions under control. I believe that sometimes there is what I call a “co-delusional agreement” that the pet owner understands the veterinarian’s instructions. In actuality, the owner does not fully understand or is embarrassed to admit they don’t understand the instructions or are not physically able to carry them out. The vet assumes that the owner understands and is able to carry out the treatment.
Statistics have shown that pet owners complete the recommended medication somewhere between 27 and 50 percent of the time. This situation may demonstrate that many ailments will resolve in spite of or without treatment. This may also be the cause of treatable disease becoming a chronic condition. The more problematic situation can arise when the patient is misdiagnosed, incompletely treated and is not reevaluated to monitor efficacy of prescribed treatment plan.
In summary, it is the responsibility of the veterinary health care provider to present a clear, concise treatment plan and follow-up care and verify that you, the pet owner, understand and are physically able to carry out the home treatment. It is your responsibility as a pet guardian to be proactive. Ask questions. Don’t be embarrassed to admit you don’t understand. Take your vet to task and ask for their diagnosis or possible diagnoses. Have them explain the treatment, demonstrate the treatment, and make you aware of signs of any side-effects that may occur. Ask to be shown how to medicate, change a bandage, and ask when to return. Ask what the possible outcome may be with the best and worse-case scenario. Be informed. Research the condition yourself on the web, newsgroups and discussions with other pet owners who have been through similar ordeals. You owe to yourself and your pet.