Dr. Gary Block, a board-certified internist and co-owner of Ocean State Veterinary Specialists in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, has been a strong supporter of Waggle since its inception and Waggle has helped fund pet-patients from OSVS. Dr. Block's practice, co-founded with his wife, Dr. Justine Johnson, a board-certified emergency and critical-care specialist, was established in 2001, and is among the largest, privately owned practices in the country, with a staff of 225, including 50 veterinarians. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, the practice offers treatment with board-certified specialists in numerous areas, including internal medicine, surgery, neurology, cardiology, radiology, ophthalmology, and oncology.
Additionally, OSVS treats not only canines and felines, but, also, birds, reptiles, exotic animals, and "pocket pets." Recognized by the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society as a Level 1 Trauma Center for animals, the OSVS hospital is a go-to resource for over 250 veterinary clinics in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, and is also an educational center, providing advanced training for veterinary professionals through its well-respected internship and residency programs.
A past president of the Rhode Island Veterinary Medical Association, the Society for Veterinary Medical Ethics, and the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, Dr. Block is active in a half-dozen animal charities, sanctuaries, and foundations.
This past spring, Dr. Block presented a talk at the Humane Society of the United States' 28th annual Pet Expo in New Orleans, where thousands of professionals convened to learn what is new and noteworthy in their profession. At the Expo, a wide range of products and services was presented at over two hundred booths, and some 80 diverse educational lectures and symposia were offered. Dr. Block's talk focused on how a practice owner and internist (someone like him) can maximize his/her impact to improve animal welfare in the clinic and beyond it.
Recently, Waggle sat down with Dr. Block to discuss his talk and to gain insights on how a modern-day veterinarian balances the commitment to give the best care to animals (and by extension, to their guardians), while being mindful of owners' financial limitations. And, at the same time, striving to achieve the optimal outcome for all—the pet-patient, the guardian, and the owner’s bank account.
WAGGLE: How do you counsel other professionals on ways to deliver the best care with the best chances for a good outcome, while still being mindful of a pet guardian's needs and ultimately, financial situation?
DR. BLOCK: I started my talk with a slide that showed the poster from Spike Lee's 1989 film, "Do the Right Thing," which really is just a way to remind the audience that the best way to help animals is by truly embracing the first principle of veterinary medical ethics, as laid out in the AVMA’s Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics: “A veterinarian shall be influenced only by the welfare of the patient, the needs of the client, the safety of the public, and the need to uphold the public trust vested in the veterinary profession.” The best way to do that in my opinion is by practicing good medicine. That means staying on top of the literature and knowing the clinical advances in all aspects of a practice. In the past 30 years, more inexpensive ways to diagnose and treat diseases have become available. It behooves us all to be aware of therm. I further underscored the need to partake in continuing education opportunities, regardless of whether it is mandated by state requirements. That all helps us ultimately "do the right thing," particularly when there are financial limitations.
WAGGLE: You spoke of the Standard of Care and the Spectrum of Care. Could you explain them, and their difference?
DR. BLOCK: There is a legal definition that refers to the Standard of Care: The care required of and practiced by the average, reasonably prudent, competent veterinarian in the community, but there is no universally accepted veterinary definition of Standard of Care (SOC). Spectrum of Care acknowledges that the care we provide has to ideally be grounded in evidence-based medicine, but must take into account circumstances such as the client’s expectations, living situation, and financial means, when determining a course of treatment. There are practical, ethical, and legal reasons for making the switch from SOC to Spectrum of Care. This is a very complicated issue. State veterinary boards determine the SOC, but it has become outdated. If the vet has the choice of doing something that is substandard and is better than doing nothing at all, and it is all the client can afford, shouldn't we do it? This opens up a thorny issue. As it stands now, pets are property in the eyes of the law, but that is not how we view our animals: They are certainly more valuable than an end table, but they are not the same as a child. Attitudes are cultural, socio-economic, historical, and they shape our judgment, and ultimately our decisions.
WAGGLE: Could you give us some examples of ways that a vet can be mindful of expenses?
DR. BLOCK: Yes, sometimes, doing nothing is the right thing to do: Don't perform tests if they are not going to change the way you are going to treat the animal; just because you have expensive equipment doesn't mean you have to use it.
WAGGLE: What are some of the ways a veterinarian can help a client harness costs?
DR. BLOCK: Educate clients about the value of health insurance, before the disaster occurs. Absent pet insurance, offering payment options, such as ScratchPay and CareCredit can help ease the financial burden. Setting up an in-house financial assistance plan with funds that are allocated for that purpose, perhaps by donations, grants, and so on, is also useful. Moreover, there are many animal-focused 501 (c) (3) organizations that have funds available for those in need. I was the treasurer of the Rhode Island Veterinary Medical Association’s Companion Animal Foundation for a decade and this organization has been giving every association member around $500 annually to provide care to low-income pet owners. At Ocean State, we keep a list of nearly two dozen organizations that might offer assistance and we routinely provide this list to clients in need. However, we expect the client to do a little digging and legwork, as well. But, we try to make it as easy as possible.
WAGGLE: And now that you have Waggle.org as a resource, how does that figure into your recommendations?
DR. BLOCK: Waggle.org allows us to funnel individual clients to yet another possible lifeline. This is especially important for pet guardians who are struggling between going into debt and feeling forced to consider economic euthanasia, which is heartbreaking. Waggle offers a rare opportunity to reach a wide audience—and all those small, online donations add up. Moreover, we find Waggle is an ideal match for the rescue and shelter organizations with which we work—they are already very web-savvy and know how to take effective pictures, and thus, for them, Waggle is a very valuable tool. If they can cover the cost of helping an animal and getting him/her back to good health, then that animal is more readily adoptable and the more animals they place in homes, the more room there is at the shelter for new animals. Waggle has proven to be a reliable and trustworthy resource, and an easy one to navigate. So even if Waggle cannot fully fund an animal's treatment, it is better than nothing. In fact, I ended my talk by underscoring that “a little bit of something is better than a whole lot of nothing.”