Implementing a successful senior care program (Proceedings)

May 01, 2011

In the most recent AVMA pet owner survey, more than 39 % of the owned dog population were 7 years of age or older and these percentages continue to grow. This change in pet population demographics is due to in part due to several inter-connected factors. The slowly changing attitudes owners have toward their pets has significantly contributed to increases in their pet's life expectancy. More owners than ever consider their pets as "family members" and therefore are more willing to invest the time, energy and those resources necessary to appropriately manage the common chronic infirmities associated with aging. In parallel with rising human-animal-bonding, the veterinary profession along with industry has responded with significant developments in comprehensive health care options, both preventative medicine and disease management, which were not accessible or affordable a decade ago. Today armed with an understanding of the aging processes and age-related diseases; we are better positioned to increase the longevity and the quality of life for our senior pets. Enhanced senior diets, superior diagnostic techniques, new drugs, safer anesthetic protocols, newer surgery techniques, advances in cancer chemotherapy, improved dental care, pain management strategies, and the use of multimodal management strategies, is changing the senior health care landscape. Once reserved for referral centers, today the primary care veterinarians are now able to provide their older patients the high quality care that even the "average" pet owner is expecting. In addition, the implementation of "Senior Care" program in the more progressive hospitals has made significant increases in the overall "Standards of Care" those hospitals provide to their older patients.

A Senior Care Program provides a proactive comprehensive health care platform that addresses the older patient's special needs that many owners now want and demand. This specialized service allows the health care team to increase the standard of care they can provide to the senior patients in the practice. Senior Care is based on two premises; first there are fundamental differences in the specific diseases, behavior problems, and the nutritional needs of the older pet; and secondly, that prevention and early detection of age-related problems can have a positive impact on the patient's quality of life and longevity.

Senior Care changes the way veterinary practices have traditionally approach the senior pet. Senior Care is a more inclusive health care program that the "adults" receive. In addition it starts at approximately seven years of age and advocates twice-yearly evaluations. Aging in animal is similar aging in people except at an accelerated rate. Every year of life for a dog or cat is equivalent to 4–7 human years dependant predominately on the size of the pet. In order to offset this faster aging process and to detect potentially serious conditions at the earliest stages, most practices are now recommend that even healthy senior dogs and cats be examined every six months. Using the same "time compression" rationale, any ongoing medical problem or condition should likewise be evaluated and monitored at least on a similar twice-a-year basis.

Another major benefit of a Senior Care program is the Industry support from companies such as IDEXX Inc. Their commitment to the program provides your practice with age related in house and referral laboratory diagnostics plus all the marketing and implementation tools necessary to make Senior Care even more successful in your practice.

Why build a Senior Care program in your practice? Scheduling regular wellness examinations is one of the most important steps pet owners can take to keep their pets healthy. Since the risk factors for developing age-related diseases increase with aging, senior wellness examinations are more important than ever. Early detection of any health problem is paramount to long term success. The earlier the detection of any health or behavioral problem occurs, the more options that are available to either cure the condition or slow the progression of the problem.

By advocating more comprehensive histories, performing more complete physical examinations, and recommending more diagnostic testing of older pets, you are providing higher quality veterinary medicine for your senior patients. A great deal of professional satisfaction for you and your staff comes from helping those long established senior patients live longer healthier lives. Plus managing most age related disease in the early phases is far more rewarding than the "end stage". Senior Care can also be a major revenue stream for the practice. With over 39% of the pet population considered seniors, tremendous financial opportunities still exist.

A Senior Care program implies both a preventative and comprehensive therapeutic approaches to management of acute and chronic conditions in aging dogs and cats. The program emphasizes client education, prevention, early detection, and timely medical intervention.