I took my cats to the vet yesterday to get their annual check up, shots and a nail clipping. The cats’ little talons had gotten so long that they were literally sticking to the carpet as they walked around. So off they went, against their will, in their sad little mobile jail cells. Merry Christmas kitties. Not.
The cats hate going to the vet as they know it means some serious loss of control issues. But as I sat there in the waiting room, I noticed something. There were several people waiting but everyone was patient, quiet and politely chatting. No one was freaking out looking at their watches, demanding faster service or rudely hassling the medical assistant. No one was looking askance at each other wondering, “What has she got? Lordy keep your germs to yourself!” It was all very civilized and such a contrast to the typical doctor waiting room, where everyone is flipped out having to wait for his or her own appointments and quietly calculating what they would charge the doctor back for making them wait.
Perhaps people are more patient at the veterinary office because the wait is for one’s pets, which are the family you choose, not the family you are born with. People often love their pets more than they love their spouses, children or parents. And can you blame them? Pets never tell you what to do or correct your grammar or ask you to take out the garbage. They follow you around acting smitten. Lord knows what they are thinking, but they always seem grateful for attention, even if they are actually plotting a way to climb over our bodies to get to the food on the counter. They even let us dress them up in silly outfits for the holidays if they know there’s a chicken liver treat in it for them. Yeah, they may curse at us during the costuming, but we will never know because they can’t raise their adorable middle claw up at us without all of the others following along. They think they are flipping us off, we think they are waving.
Alright, alright, you are asking, so what? What does this have to do with healthcare? Here it is: One of the most amusing healthcare stories of the year, in my opinion, was the one about how the Supreme Court, in declining to hear a case about veterinary telemedicine, may have put the kibosh on the efforts of those hoping to get paid for remote medical visits. In real life, there was a case in Texas (always Texas!) where a vet was providing medical advice via phone and the web for $58 a call. The veterinarian was shut down by the local licensing board; they say he violated a law that prevents you from treating an animal without seeing it in person first (exactly the same argument that the medical community is using against human telemed company Teladoc). The vet case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which declined to hear it, putting this vet’s newfound telemedicine business in the doghouse.
Some of you may not see this as funny, as it has potential reverberations for the real healthcare industry. But for me it struck a funny bone, and that’s making the Chihuahua drool. I started thinking how there could be a parallel universe for pet digital health, perhaps fueled by the first dog’s Bo-bamacare. I was reminded that people readily spend thousands of dollars on their pet’s healthcare but bitch and moan about their own $20 copays. We in the U.S. spent over $15 billion on veterinary services in 2014 and that includes an inflation rate of about 6% over 2013, on par with the inflation rate of human healthcare that same year. The final 2014-2015 numbers aren’t yet in, apparently, because it takes a while to tap them out with one’s paw.
Universes aside, are a lot of parallels between human and pet health, aside from the rising cost. For instance, in the US, the number of insured pets is around 1% compared to Sweden’s near 50%. Apparently we Americans have health insurance issues for all species (hence Bo-bamacare!). As this article says, “With pet insurance, you don’t have to decide between pet care and your budget.” And of course, that’s exactly the problem we people have had with insurance. “Free” care has led to not always necessary care. Sounds familiar.
On the other hand, we have long had more open end-of-life
conversations about our pets than about our family members. As the same article says, “It’s all about quality of life. That’s sometimes a very difficult discussion to have with clients. How do you know when enough is enough? I believe our pets tell us that and I often say when you’re doing something more for yourself than for them – then its enough.”
While I can’t even think about making such choices without wincing, I can think of some people I’d like to see sporting one of those big cone collars, just because I think it would be funny at board meetings.
And back to our parallel digital health universe, once we get the veterinary telemedicine business back up and running (Teladog?), I think we should branch out. How about a Castlight for pets so they can choose among vets, check prices and make convenient appointments? We can call it Catslight and need minimal brand adjustment. For the dogs eating their way to metabolic disorder, how about Omada, er Omadog Health? How about a wellness program where the dogs gets treat rebates for reporting their FitBark results (Note: this is an actual product; do you have to divide the 10,000 steps by two given the four paws?). If the FitBark shows the dog is sleeping fitfully, should we prescribe Fido some time on Headspace or little tiny Ambien? Will dogs start selling their prescriptions to their friends at obedience school? If they do, no doubt it will be cats that drive the business side of things. Next up: pawpulation health.
And that reminds me of one of those hilarious Seinfeld episodes where Kramer self-treats his cough with Smuckers’ dog pills because he and the dog have the same symptoms. There’s a great scene of Jerry giving Kramer the dog pill…well worth watching.
Happy New Year to All!
ps–in the world of digital health for pets, all the VCs would undoubtedly be cats; they have the personality for it and will cough up a hair ball on you without a second thought. Can’t you just see them in their little fleece vests?