MSDC Joins the DC Veterinary Medical Association and Other Health Groups Celebrating One Health Day November 3, 2023

Written by Dr. Ashesh Patel, MSDC President

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One Health is an integrated approach, which recognizes that the health of humans is closely linked and interdependent with the health of animals, plants, and the environment. There are multiple benefits and reasons why veterinarians, physicians, and other health and social services professionals in the DC area should work together to address health challenges.
Animals as Sentinels for People
Just over 38% of households in DC own pets and this number is likely to rise. Not only do pets and people live close together, but people and wildlife live in surprisingly close quarters. Just last year, multiple people on Capitol Hill were impacted by a rabid fox, and the rat population in DC poses on-going concerns for other zoonotic diseases, such as hantavirus.
Physicians can work together with local veterinarians to streamline data sharing and concerns of any increase in diseases with zoonotic potential. With awareness of these shared health concerns, physicians and veterinarians can work together to talk with their patients who own pets about the importance of updating their pets’ rabies vaccine,  keeping their pets and people away from wildlife.
Moreover, with changing climate patterns, certain vector-borne diseases are spreading into areas not previously seen before. For instance, locally-acquired malaria was recently identified in Maryland and more ticks than usual were roaming through DC this past summer. Veterinarians may very well be on the front lines of an uptick in tick and mosquito-borne diseases in the area as these might show up sooner as a problem in pets, and wildlife, than people. If local veterinarians begin noticing higher numbers of tick-borne diseases or novel disease patterns, they can alert health authorities to share that information with physicians and their patients. Similar to when West Nile Virus was first identified in the U.S. in 1999, communication between veterinarians and human health professionals is essential to identify a potentially shared health threat before it spirals out of control.
Pets are Both a Bridge & Barrier to Care
In addition to diseases of mutual concern, veterinarians and physicians can collaborate as pets are becoming an essential part of many people’s family - occasionally, the only family member they have. Many pet owners would benefit greatly from close collaboration between their veterinary office and their medical providers. Veterinarians can be in direct conversation with their clients’ health professionals when pet health recommendations might be in direct conflict with the physical, mental, or emotional health realities of their clients.
For those who are traditionally less able to access health services - those experiencing homelessness, in domestic violence situations, or struggling from the limitations of poverty - offering services for their pets can often be a bridge to connecting them with services for themselves. While traumatized individuals can often be distrustful of institutions and human health care professionals, trust in veterinarians’ concern for their pets can be a gateway to eventually connect the pet owners with health services for themselves, whether that be social services, mental health treatment, medical treatment, housing, etc.
Both veterinarians and physicians value offering quality and accessible care. A key piece of ensuring care is inclusive means recognizing pets as legitimate members of the family for those who rely on them as such. Through collaboration, communication, and coordination, veterinarians, physicians, and other health professionals can create innovative care solutions that decrease barriers, increase equitable access, and offer improved outcomes for both people and pets.
Veterinarians & Physicians Face Similar Challenges
In addition to better serving our patients, collaboration and communication between physicians and veterinarians is paramount because our professions have similar challenges. Both veterinarians and physicians are facing a mental health crises, including burn-out and concerning rates of suicide. Both professions are also grappling with workforce shortages, adding even more strain on both how well we can serve our patients and our own personal well-being. Working across sectors, we can share information about what is working, what is not working, and creative solutions to these critical problems.
So, how are we going to support continued and enhanced collaboration, communication, and coordination amongst veterinarians and physicians in the DC area? Co-authoring this blog is a first step. We are beginning conversations in the hopes of sparking multiple smaller conversations. Our two professional medical societies are committed to working together to host joint webinars, participating in each other to our associations’ meetings, and seeking avenues for hosting joint continuing education sessions. We hope to plan joint health events to reach both people and pets in one venue, as well as sharing stories, data, and cross-sectoral health ideas all in one place. Committing to the One Health approach can improve health outcomes across sectors - the time is right to act now.