Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
The fact that veterinary medicine is looking to the allied human medical professions for inspiration is a very good thing. After all, the drive to heal humans — not animals — has been the overriding force behind the development of medical innovations since the dawn of time. That’s why “creative mooching,” as I like to call it, affords a way for veterinary medicine to improve animal health by taking lots of its high-tech (and not-so-high-tech) cues from its sister professions.

Read on to learn about 10 newfangled things modern veterinarians are currently adopting from human medicine.

1. Transplant medicine. In addition to blood transfusions, dialysis and skin grafts, we’ve set our sights on bringing kidney, liver and heart transplants to our veterinary patients. But only because we’ve learned how from human medicine. 

2. Checklists. As I intimated earlier, not every item on this list is a high-tech adaptation from human medicine. This one’s actually an engineering solution that arrived by way of human medicine and was popularized by Dr. Atul Gawande in his seminal book, The Checklist Manifesto.

The idea is that medicine’s become so technologically complex that mistakes are happening at a higher rate. Just like a fighter pilot checks off points on his checklist before every flight, so too should veterinarians employ checklists for everything from anesthesia management to laboratory techniques, and even new puppy/kitten visits. (Who can remember everything one needs to talk about during these critical visits?)

3. Antinausea medication. Nausea is not necessarily second to pain when alleviating animal suffering. It’s a really big deal. In fact, without nausea medication, I probably would’ve lost last week’s pancreatitis patient. Thankfully, increasingly effective iterations of these drugs are becoming more widely available to animal medicine.

In large part, I’m told, this increased availability has to do with the prevalence of chemotherapy in humans and the need to address the extreme nausea these protocols too often elicit. As drug companies cycle through the drugs they find effective, many of these medications are being conscripted into veterinary service.

4. Radiation technology. It may sound crazy to you, but in South Florida, where I live, my patients have access to three linear accelerator machines dedicated full-time to irradiating tumors in pets. Cool, right? More so when you consider that plenty of facilities are now starting to offer the Gamma Knife, an even more precise radiation therapy tool for pets with brain tumors.

5. Better [animal] living through chemicals. The rise in drugs used to treat mental health in humans has led to a similar spike in their use among pets. Though ethical questions persist (as they should), some pets are clearly benefiting from the science behind these medications.

6. Low-level laser therapy (aka, cold laser therapy). By using low-power lasers to interact with tissues, this technology is thought to help accelerate wound healing and alleviate pain. Although still mostly considered an alternative therapy in human medicine, the technology’s relative safety, along with the wide availability of units once destined for human use, have opened the doors for veterinary medicine.

7. Stem cell therapy. The point of stem cell therapy is to take immature cells and put them in a location where they can then “teach” existing cells what to do. As with the cold laser, this is a human medical adaptation that’s gaining ground in animal medicine and has been approved by the FDA for some indications in pets.

8. Chemotherapy. Newer, more effective protocols are slowly making their way toward animals as veterinary oncologists continue to make smart, tactical decisions adapted from human protocols.

9. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Being exposed to oxygen-saturated air at a high pressure for prolonged periods of time has been shown to reduce inflammation and improve tissue healing. This used to be unavailable for animals. It’s now almost common practice for expensive racehorses and is finally making its way toward pets.

10. Online medical records. Though we hardly consider the Internet high-tech anymore, the truth is that we’ve got a long way to go before we realize this medium’s full promise. Online medical record keeping is one of the Internet’s Holy Grails. While human medicine has made some crucial strides, the veterinary profession’s freedom from certain privacy laws may mean that veterinary medicine can take this baby and run with it.

Stay tuned for more!

More on Vetstreet: