Shotgun Medicine

Shotgun Medicine

By Dr. Ed Mapes
Stonebridge Animal Hospital
McKinney, Tx

Ever heard of the term “shotgun medicine”? With all the conversation about controlling firearm violence lately, this seems to be an appropriate column. “Shotgun medicine” is a term used to describe a method of prescribing medications for illness when doctors don’t really know what they’re treating. The shotgun approach is done by prescribing several different medications at once to see if anything works. The patient is splattered with drugs in hopes that something finds its mark.

If the patient in fact improves – whether due to the medications or the animal’s own healing capacity – the doctor can take credit and all seems well; that is until the condition returns. In that case, you as the pet owner are back to the beginning with a sick animal and without a diagnosis.

Another common scenario with this approach is that the animal never improves at all, but in fact gets worse. Now the patient is even sicker, and reaching a successful outcome is likely more difficult and more expensive – all because the doctor took the easy way out at the beginning.

Better medicine involves determining a list of diseases that could cause of the illness. This then leads to appropriate tests to eliminate possibilities until the correct diagnosis is reached. Once established, guesswork in prescribing treatment is eliminated and the proper course of therapy – with the best odds of a cure – can begin.

Performing this higher standard of medicine may take slightly more time and entail a bit more thought; but don’t our patients deserve the best we can give them? Do clients want anything but our most thoughtful efforts that bring about the best results?

I believe very strongly that our clients want what’s best for their pets; otherwise why would they go to the effort of bringing them to our hospitals? Doctors who prefer to sling drugs at disease take advantage of their clients’ trust inferring that doctors bound by an oath will always give their best effort for the well-being of patients.

You should be able to discuss a medical condition with your veterinarian to develop a list of possible disorders. Once done, go over options available to proceed. You are entitled to be informed of the optimum pathway to success along with other routes that may offer a lesser chance of success. You should be given a choice of routes to take, and one of those MUST be an option leading to the greatest expectation of success.

The more thorough method will usually cost more up front, but in many cases that proves to be the more cost effective approach in the long run because the appropriate therapy is more effective. Using a “Plan B” approach may end up prolonging the animal’s disease and suffering, take longer to resolve, and cost much more. Before opting for diagnostic and treatment options, make sure you at least know what “Plan A” is.

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