Commentary from Equine Disease Quarterly

Credit: Thinkstock Communication has always been important in the relationship between veterinarians, clients and co-workers.

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” I will add another certainty to Benjamin Franklin’s observation, and that is change. Recently attending my 30-year veterinary school class reunion made that abundantly clear.

When I attended veterinary school, the board certified radiologists were learning how to use the newly acquired, latest imaging technology—the ultrasound machine. Pain management for horses primarily consisted of flunixin meglumine, phenylbutazone and narcotics. The rapid, specific test called polymerase chain reaction was in no one’s vocabulary (yet).

People communicated via mail, telephone or the radio in the veterinary practice vehicle. When having a meal with a friend or colleague, no one was interrupted by a text, cell phone call or “bling” of an incoming email or social media post. Computers had disk operating systems (MS-DOS) and a basic personal computer cost $2,300 ($4,200 in today’s dollars).

Communication has always been important in the relationship between veterinarians, clients and co-workers. However, at the 2015 American Veterinary Medical Association Convention, it was sobering to see the numerous lectures on cyber bullying and workplace bullying. Bullying isn’t limited to playgrounds anymore; it is in the workplace and online and is a serious issue. People now have the ability to “comment” about anyone, on anything, at any time via social media and internet sites. While this can be helpful when users rate a book, movie, new computer or phone app, baseless, vicious comments are rarely productive and may result in criminal or civil charges. Truthful complaints are best reserved for the local Better Business Bureau rather than anonymously online.

Yet some things have not changed and likely never will. Nothing will ever replace a thorough history and physical examination of an animal as the first steps in disease diagnosis. All the cutting-edge diagnostic testing, imaging and monitoring techniques must be interpreted in light of the behavior and clinical signs exhibited by the patient. As my anesthesiology professor pounded into us as veterinary students, “Look at your patient as well as the machines! The patient never lies!”

And while diagnosticians have an ever increasing arsenal of testing procedures for equine diseases, many challenges remain. Just because a horse has an antibody titer to a pathogen doesn’t necessarily mean it has the disease; it may simply mean the horse has been exposed to the pathogen and/or that it was vaccinated. How high is the titer, and what diagnostic method was used? What are the sensitivity and specificity of the test? All is dependent upon appropriate interpretation of the test result in conjunction with the patient history and physical examination.

Thirty years from now our current technology will be similarly outdated and likely be viewed as archaic by a new generation. Death, taxes, and change will always be with us. One other axiom—by John Lubbock—is also timeless: “There is nothing so good for the inside of a man as the outside of a horse.”

This article is from the Equine Disease Quarterly, published by the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment Department of Veterinary Science and sponsored by Lloyd’s of London and its Kentucky agents. You may subscribe to this publication for free.

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