Vet Tech Corner: The rewards and challenges of a multi-specialty and emergency hospital

By: Justina Pritzker, Claims Specialist, RVT
One of the most rewarding and emotionally challenging positions I held as veterinary technician was working in the oncology department at a multi-specialty and emergency hospital. Working as an oncology technician not only provided an opportunity to hone my technical skills but it also provided the opportunity to emotionally support both the pet and pet owner with quality time and care. With most treatment protocols requiring regular administration of chemotherapy and monitoring, I quickly developed close bonds with my patients and their owners. My greatest joy was discharging once very sick pets after completing a successful treatment protocol that prolonged their lifespan and quality of life.

One patient in particular stole my heart. Amethyst was a beautiful Gordon Setter and former show dog that had developed cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. Though not a common cancer, we had seen a few cases. It is a particularly cruel form of lymphoma in which large, ulcerated lesions develop over large areas of the body, which result in secondary bacterial infections. Amethyst had my heart right from the get go. Her once beautiful coat was patchy and dull with large areas of alopecia, punctuated by thickened, ulcerated, exudative lesions. Despite having been obviously uncomfortable, Amethyst stood as still as her busy little Gordon body would allow and licked my face as I documented and measured her lesions. Amethyst was one of few patients that was covered by pet insurance, so the gold standard of chemotherapy protocols was chosen to treat her condition.

I immediately grew close to both Amethyst and her owner, and I began looking forward to their visits each week. Amethyst remained stoic while we measured her shrinking lesions. Sometimes her sister would accompany her for moral support and her owner would share stories about her days in the show ring. Both the oncologist and her owner were pleased with her progress.

Several weeks after initiating oncology care, Amethyst’s lymphoma stopped responding to treatment and her lesions returned with a vengeance. A recommended rescue protocol began that day. The following week Amethyst’s owner returned with devastating news; her insurance cap was reached and she would no longer receive reimbursement for Amethyst’s lymphoma treatment. Amethyst’s owner could no longer afford to continue her current protocol. We adjusted her treatment to an oral medication that was more affordable and could be monitored through her family veterinarian. We saw Amethyst for one more recheck and then a few months later received a card from Amethyst’s owner. The owner thanked us for our care and let us know that Amethyst’s quality of life declined, resulting in the difficult decision to let her go. While I was no stranger to losing patients, this one tugged a little harder at my heartstrings.

I am grateful to have been a part of Amethysts care and to have helped give peace of mind to her owner that she did everything in her power to fight the disease. While having an insurance policy with no annual or lifetime payout limits likely would not have changed the ending to Amethyst’s story, it would’ve helped prolong her quality of life. Uncapped insurance policies empower pet owners into making the best decisions for their pet’s care based on their veterinarian’s recommendations while easing financial burden.

Stories like Amethyst’s are somewhat common, but there are even more pets with similar stories and no medical insurance. Imagine if Amethyst presented with skin lesions and lethargy prior to the cutaneous T-cell lymphoma diagnosis and no insurance?  We’ve all been there, sitting side-by-side in the exam room with the pet’s owner, reviewing estimates and treatment options, while trying to balance their finances without compromising patient care. Then, after making a group decision of the seemingly-best, most affordable course of treatment for that pet, what happens when there’s a complication, or if one of the extreme rule-outs becomes the diagnosis? How will the client afford the next surgery, intense hospitalization, follow-up treatments and diagnostics?

There is a solution. A Trupanion medical insurance policy provides coverage for cats and dogs with no annual or lifetime payout limits on the amount of care a pet can receive. This means the pet’s coverage won’t end and the amount of care the pet receives is financially limitless. By enrolling pets in Trupanion at a young age, clients can afford any and all treatments and diagnostics of their pet’s unforeseen medical conditions that arise later in life. Simple, unforeseen accidents and illnesses that normally require little treatment may result in complications, leading to high costs of treatment.

Consider the case of a female yellow Labrador retriever that presented to a clinic soon after a simple spider bite. Time passed, but the wound didn’t heal quickly. Upon further testing, the non-healing spider bite was diagnosed as necrotizing fasciitis. The owner was given the news that this complication was most likely diagnosed early enough that a single, aggressive surgery should resolve the issue. After the first surgery though, the ruthless bacteria spread, resulting in several additional surgeries and aggressive antibiotics. This spider bite complication eventually lead to a leg amputation in order to save the dog’s life. This seemingly-simple spider bite resulted in aggressive treatment and over $20,000 in veterinary bills. These extensive and expensive treatments saved this lady lab’s life.

Thankfully, this yellow lab was enrolled with a Trupanion policy. The clinic could diagnosis and continuously treat this dog without considering cost. The spider bite, and complications of the spider bite wound, were covered as one condition with no payout limits, no matter how many surgeries or additional care was needed. Due to the pet’s insurance policy, the dog’s family could immediately approve continued care each step of the way, which allowed treatments to stay ahead of the infection. The owners approved all ongoing, life-saving care without scraping together finances or maxing out their credit cards. When the pet is $5,000 to $10,000 into a life-saving treatment and the owners and clinic are medically, financially, and emotionally invested in the pet’s care, no payout limits are essential.

About the author: 

Justina Pritzker is from Lake Tahoe in Northern California, and she received her Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science at the University of California, Davis.  She has seven years’ experience working as a veterinary technician at small animal clinics in Northern California and at UC Davis’ veterinary school. Over the past year, Justina joined Trupanion as a claim specialist, where she challenges her veterinary medical knowledge in claim adjudication. Aside from her passion for animal care, Justina enjoys world travelling, skiing, and learning.

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