Veterinary care catching up to human health care - Guide to Greater Tampa Bay
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Veterinary care catching up to human health care

Veterinary care catching up to human health care

Veterinary medicine goes back thousands of years, with the first references to animal healing dating around 3,000 BC in ancient Mesopotamia. In those early times, companion animals did not exist like they do today. Animal healing was focused primarily on livestock.

Naturally, veterinary care has come a long way in the last 5,000 years. Thanks to advances in research and technology, vet care now often keeps pace with advances in human medicine.

For the past few decades veterinary medicine often lagged behind human medicine in many arenas. Today veterinarians are harnessing new technologies and pharmaceuticals to help prevent, identify or treat illness, injury or disease.

One glaring example of how veterinary technology was behind the human field was telemedicine. Doctors in human medical fields had been using telemedicine in some form for decades. Today, the term telemedicine is used interchangeably with telehealth, virtual medicine, virtual care and others. Almost every health system in the nation has an app or online platform where patients can consult with a provider in a virtual environment.

Up until 2016, these options did not exist in the veterinary world. LiveDVM was considered to be the first online platform to connect veterinarians with their patients allowing for virtual visits. Since the launch of LiveDVM, dozens of alternatives have been deployed in the veterinary marketplace.

Tampa Veterinary Hospital was the first hospital in Tampa to use LiveDVM and has since moved to the AirVet app.

“Virtual Visits were a game changer during the height of the pandemic,” said Dr. Melissa Webster of Tampa Vet. “When our guests needed to social distance, it allowed us to continue to provide the highest standards of care.”

Virtual visits cannot replace a pet’s need to visit the veterinarian on an annual basis. However, they can give a pet parent quick access to a veterinary professional if they are unsure if their pet needs immediate care or if it can wait. Telemedicine consultations are great for follow-up visits so a veterinarian can check on the progression of a condition, examine sutures following a surgical procedure or a variety of scenarios.

“The AirVet app helps us communicate more effectively with our guests” Dr. Webster said. “It can also save our guests an added trip to the hospital, which they love.”

Pain Management

For many years, veterinarians had few options to manage pain in pets beyond the use of medications. Pain medications, while effective, often have long-term side effects and may require costly bloodwork on a bi-annual basis to ensure liver function is not compromised. Fortunately, technology is now offering doctors and pet parents drug-free options like laser therapy, stem cell therapy and platelet-rich plasma therapy.

Laser therapy can be used in place of or in conjunction with medication to manage pain, inflammation and wound healing. Therapeutic lasers work by using red or near-infrared light, which cause a change in cellular tissue and physiology. The light is absorbed by cellular components stimulating electrons and activates cells to promote growth and repair.  

Laser therapy can help tissue repair by way of endorphin release, vasodilation, muscle relaxation and decreasing inflammation. Pets suffering from arthritis or joint injuries are excellent candidates for laser therapy. Laser therapy can also be used to help speed healing for surgical incisions, tendon or ligament injuries or wound care.

One of the main benefits to veterinary laser therapy is the fact that it is non-invasive. Most pets actually enjoy getting their treatments. The laser creates a warm, pleasant sensation that most pets find relaxing.

Minimally invasive plasma therapy

Another alternative that veterinarians are finding success with is the use of platelet-rich plasma therapy. PRP is a form of regenerative medicine that allows the patient’s own growth factors to heal tissue.

Blood is drawn from the patient and is put through a specialized process using a centrifuge to extract the platelets and plasma from the rest of the blood. The result is a concentrated liquid containing activated platelets which are then injected into a pet’s source of pain. In many cases, this could be a joint like a hip or knee.

PRP therapy has been used widely in human medicine. It is gaining popularity among professional athletes thanks to its positive results and the fact that it is minimally invasive. Some of the athletes that have seen the benefits from PRP therapy include Tiger Woods, Rafael Nadal, Alex Rodriguez and Brian Urlacher.

As PRP continues to grow in popularity, it will be available in more veterinary facilities. Since it requires specialized equipment and training, not every facility will offer it.

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Stem Cells

Similar to PRP therapy is stem cell replacement therapy. They work in similar ways, but stem cell therapy is more invasive and uses stem cells stored in a pet’s adipose, or fat, tissue. The patient is put under general anesthesia while the veterinarian harvests adipose tissue. This tissue is then put through a complex process to isolate the stem cells which are then injected back into the patient.

Stem cells are said to have more regenerative properties than platelet rich plasma. If enough adipose tissue is available, stem cells can also be cryogenically frozen and stored for future use.

Every pet’s pain management needs are different. A veterinarian will need to take into consideration a patient’s medical history, weight, age, activity level and temperament to provide the best care plan. The plan may still require the use of pain medications or supplements depending on the pet’s condition.

Diagnostic Tools

It is commonplace for most full-service veterinary facilities to offer digital radiographs these days. Many facilities have made investments in ultrasound technologies to help diagnose a variety of ailments to better serve their patients.

Unfortunately, X-rays and ultrasounds cannot give a veterinarian all the answers they need. Sometimes to arrive at an accurate diagnosis, an MRI or CT scan is the best option. Both are available in the Greater Tampa Bay area. Since the equipment is expensive and requires extensive training, most veterinarians need to refer these cases to a specialist — similar to human medicine. A new service has launched recently, bringing the CT to the veterinarian and patient in a high-tech mobile unit.

The Next Generation

The advancement of artificial intelligence and machine learning continues to touch almost every aspect of life. Veterinary medicine is certainly no exception, especially when it comes to diagnosing disease. Veterinary partners, such as reference labs, are harnessing their large amounts of data and images. They use them to train AI software to detect disease with greater accuracy.

Veterinarians also have access to AI in the exam room with AI-equipped stethoscopes. These can help identify cardiac conditions such as heart murmurs or other abnormalities. While not every veterinarian has invested in one, do not be surprised to see a veterinarian using their stethoscope alongside a smart phone app in the near future.

By Jon VanNevel

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