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Implementing a successful senior care program in your practice (Proceedings)

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Aug 01, 2010

Companion pets are happier, healthier and living longer today than ever before for several inter-connected reasons. Changing owner attitudes toward their pets, has significantly contributed to increases in life expectancy. More owners than ever consider their pets as "family members" and therefore are more willing to invest the time, energy and resources required to appropriately manage those common chronic infirmities associated with aging. In parallel with the changing 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.

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. (see the age-analogy chart below). 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 like IDEXX, IAMS and Fort Dodge. IDEXX 's continued 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. Tools for client education, health data gathering and health reporting tools, patient diagnostic and management charts plus program implementation tips are currently available.

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.

FOUR ESSENTIAL COMPONENTS of any Senior Care program should include;
       1. Preventative Health programs
       2. A comprehensive patient health assessment (discovery)
       3. A formal review period where all the findings are communicated to the owner and
       4. A formulating specific short & long term action plans A scheduled follow-up