Need to see a specialist fast? Too bad you're not a dog.
Rover will see an oncologist within days; you'll wait five weeks for a consultation. Bum hip? You could wait over a year. Cataracts? Three months. Whiskers could get both fixed tomorrow.
BARBARA RIGHTON AND NICHOLAS KOHLER | May 1, 2008 |
Also at Macleans.ca:
No horsing around
Inside one of Canada’s most sophisticated operating rooms—for horses
Dr. Danny Joffe is only half joking when he says that if he'd fallen asleep on the last day of vet school in Saskatoon and woken up some two decades later in his current workplace, he would not have believed it was an animal hospital. Joffe is one of 11 specialists at the C.A.R.E. Centre, a 28,000-sq.-foot palace of veterinary medicine built two years ago in Calgary by a consortium that owns 23 vet clinics and animal hospitals across British Columbia and Alberta. It has four operating theatres, a $100,000 CT machine, two ultrasound machines, a digital X-ray unit, an endoscopy centre, a lab and 16 examination rooms. Its intensive care unit boasts 20 cages and eight dog runs, staffed 24/7. "It's just like an emergency centre at a tertiary care human hospital," Joffe says.
There is almost no pet illness that can't be treated here. For eye problems, C.A.R.E. provides ophthalmologists who perform cataract surgery. Orthopaedic surgeons do hip replacements or arthroscopy — minimally invasive surgery on joints. To treat cancer, a surprisingly common disease in dogs and cats, says Joffe, "Our oncologist can offer intricate chemotherapy protocols and our surgeons can do very extreme and elaborate surgeries, including mass removals, amputations and bone transplants from cadaver dogs." As for MRIs, C.A.R.E. has a standing two appointments a week booked at a private human facility in the city. "For you or I it might be a several-month process," says Joffe of getting an MRI. "We get it done in a week or less."
Between the ER and the referral practice, C.A.R.E. sees some 8,000 pets a year, a staggering number for a place that has no primary medical care and specializes in delivering the kind of medical services people find at a hospital. This fall, when Canada's fifth vet school opens at the University of Calgary and C.A.R.E. becomes part of its teaching hospital, its referrals are likely to grow even more. Premium vet care may be an easier sell in a booming Alberta, Joffe says, but money isn't the bottom line. "If someone sees a friend get a hip replacement, they demand that for their pet," he says. "They want what people can have."
Trouble is, when it comes to medical care in Canada, our pets are often getting what we get — and a whole lot more besides. And they're getting it faster too. Using just about every machine known to human health care — CT scans, MRIs, ultrasounds, lasers and scopes of all sizes — animal cardiologists and oncologists, ophthalmologists, dermatologists and orthopaedic surgeons are offering a level of service so high that it rivals — some say surpasses — human medicine's. Vets can identify every pet problem from bowed tendons to blocked urethras to arthritic hips, and set to work fixing them immediately.
That's where millions of Bootses and Buddies and even Dobbinses have a decided advantage over their human owners in this country. If you are going to be sick in Canada, you are much further ahead being a beloved dog or cat. Even pet horses have far better prospects for healthier lives now than they ever had before. And where care for our dogs, cats and horses puts our own system to the greatest shame is in the domain of wait times and access to specialists. Our pets may not be able to talk, but they can get an appointment with a primary care vet within 24 hours and a specialist within the week. "I have a friend who had a dog with cancer and it got treatment within two weeks," says Tina Kelly, an IT buyer in Waterloo, Ont. "For something like that in a human, I bet the response would've been 10 times as long."
And how. There are just 10,800 vets in this country compared to over 62,000 human doctors. But try, as a human, to get an appointment with a specialist. Try, for that matter, getting a GP — five million Canadians, about 15 per cent of the population, don't have one, while 15 per cent of those who do still report trouble receiving routine care. And a referral from your family doctor to a specialist puts you in store for a new ordeal. According to the most recent edition of "Waiting Your Turn: Hospital Waiting Lists in Canada," the Fraser Institute's annual survey of wait times across the country, the number of weeks people waited to see a specialist rose from a median of 8.8 in 2006 to a median of 9.2 weeks in 2007. The journey from specialist to actual treatment took a median of nine weeks after that.