I got a nasty email recently. Someone had taken exception to the rules that all veterinarians are required to follow. This, in the writer’s estimation, made me a money-grubbing thief who wanted to mistreat his pet and cared only about collecting my fee. At issue was the requirement that no prescription can be refilled if the patient has not had an examination within the preceding twelve months.
Most people understand that prescription drugs are regulated under both State and Federal law, but let’s put a really fine point on it: The California statute reads, “The veterinarian shall not prescribe a drug for a duration longer than one year from the date the veterinarian examined the animal(s) and prescribed the drug.” Note the period. This statute does not go on to name exceptions or special circumstances, like “but it’s only flea medicine,” or “but I always give the medication.”
I don’t suppose anyone believes that I personally wrote this law to enhance my profits, but I am surprised at the venom showered upon me and my staff when we refuse to violate this particular rule. Seriously! Why shouldn't I violate the law on request? I have nothing to lose except my license to practice, my ability to make a living, and what power I have to relieve the pain and suffering of animals.
The California Code of Regulations, Title 16, Division 4 excerpt cited above is a consumer protection statute enacted to protect animal owners from the sloppy or slip-shod practice of veterinary medicine that could result in the injury or death of your pet. This law exists for your protection. No veterinarian can hand out unlimited prescription refills, regardless of the relative safety of a particular drug or the past history of that drug’s safe use in a particular patient. Continually refilling a prescription without monitoring the patient is the very definition of shoddy veterinary practice.
And yet, looking at an annual examination as something mandated to satisfy a legal requirement completely and utterly misses the point: The annual examination is the heart of effective and efficient health care. It is truly amazing that some pet owners will bring Phydeaux to the low-cost clinic for boosters (that he may or may not need) and skip the annual examination because, “There’s nothing wrong with him,” and think they are saving money.
Do we wait until there’s something wrong with the car to have it inspected? No! It’s inspected with every routine oil change! Do we wait for the house to catch fire before we check the yard for overgrown brush? No! We inspect and clean up the brush every year!
When is the last time you inspected your pet’s teeth? Or listened to his heart? Or looked into his ear canals? Been a while? When is the last time you popped the wheels off your car and checked your brake pads? Never! You see a professional for this!
The annual examination is the heart of high quality health care. No matter how well you know your pet, no matter how well-read and attentive you are towards your pet’s health, there is simply no way you can compete with a trained professional’s ability to recognize and understand the meaning of subtle changes in your pet’s condition. If you skip the annual exam and get the “shots” instead, you may very well be wasting your money.
Megan is a middle aged Australian Shepherd. She’s gained some weight but is an otherwise normal older dog who doesn’t like long walks anymore. The veterinarian notices that her coat quality has declined. A simple test verifies Megan’s thyroid gland dysfunction, a condition easily corrected with medication. In ten days’ time Megan is running around like she used to. She acts as if she’s five years younger.
Lucy is a 13 year old shorthair cat. She’s lost a little weight but is an otherwise normal older kitty who sleeps most of the day. The veterinarian finds that Lucy’s left kidney is larger than normal and a little sore. Simple testing shows that she has stones which are damaging her kidney. Dietary therapy controls her stone formation and saves what’s left of Lucy’s kidney function. In two week’s time her kidney is back to normal size and she’s back to hunting gophers in the yard.
Focus on what really matters: Good health care starts with an annual examination.