There was a wonderful article in The Wall Street Journal this week (with video) about doctors who routinely bring their dogs to their offices. The doctors say that the presence of a dog in a doctor’s office often helps patients open up or calm down, as needed.
courtesy of flickr user JohnONolan (creative commons)
Most of the doctors in the story are psychiatrists, who apparently have a history of bringing their pets to work. According to the article, Sigmund Freud often kept his dog (a chow named Jofi) in his office during patient visits, and he observed that the dog had a calming effect on his patients. Several of the contemporary psychiatrists reported similar observations. The dog’s temperament, rather than breed, is what matters. “Canine assistants” described in the article included a shih tzu, a Labrador retriever, cavalier King Charles spaniels, and mutts.
Obviously, some patients who are allergic to or afraid of dogs won’t get any benefit from having them around. So doctors who are considering bringing their pets on staff should warn patients in advance that a dog is present, and keep Fido out of the room as necessary. Dogs don’t have to be certified therapy dogs to help patients relax, but they should be reliably well-behaved. Doctors in other specialties, such as dermatology and plastic surgery, have been known to let their dogs have the run of the waiting room as a way to relax and entertain patients, although treatment rooms are off-limits.
The dogs seem especially valuable for the youngest and oldest patients. One of the doctors in the story, a neurologist who specializes in memory disorders, said that her two dogs put many of her older patients at ease. And one parent said her child actually looks forward to visiting her child psychologist because she loves seeing the dogs.
Having a canine staff member is budget-friendly, too. Dogs don’t need a benefits plan, and they take payment in snacks, walks, and love.
–Heidi Splete (@hsplete on twitter)
Here at Elsevier Global Medical News, we aim to report stories with direct clinical relevance. We rarely cover Phase I trials, and virtually never report on test-tube or animal studies. Here is an exception: This study is not so much about research on animals but on research by animals.
Here at the annual meeting of the American Urological Association, there are always many studies on detecting and treating prostate cancer. Existing screening methods leave a great deal to be desired. The popular PSA test, for example, is very non-specific—it flags many men who do not have prostate cancer.
Yet a group of French researchers have reported success at training a Belgian Shepherd (Malinois) owned by the French Army to detect prostate cancer by sniffing urine samples.
Here’s a video of the dog in action. The samples are in the drawers.
Presented with urine from 33 patients with confirmed prostate cancer and 33 with elevated PSA levels but without prostate cancer, the dog correctly identified every cancer patient and correctly excluded all but three of the non-cancer patients. Thus the sniff test had a sensitivity of 100% and a specificity of 92%, a truly remarkable result.
Now you’re not going to see lab-coated pooches in your local doctor’s office any time soon. For one thing, an attempt to train a second dog was unsuccessful. The French investigators hope to figure out which volatile organic compound the dog is detecting, and develop an “electronic nose” to do this automatically.
One question remains: Will the electronic nose be cold and wet? Only time will tell.
From the annual meeting of the American Medical Directors Association.
One of the canine stars at a press conference intended to promote doggie visits to nursing homes made an inauspicious entrance by piddling in excitement.
Once that was out of the way, though, poodles Tessa and Sophie escorted owner Dr. Karl Steinberg through the San Diego Convention Center to meet the press. Dr. Steinberg, medical director of long-term care facilities near San Diego, brings the dogs to work with him as he visits 15 different facilities.
Sophie (left), Tessa (center) and Dr. Steinberg visit a nursing home resident. Photo courtesy of Caring for the Ages.
He and two other nursing home medical directors described the joy of bringing their dogs to work — and the joy that the dogs bring to nursing home residents. Several of them were profiled recently in the Association’s newspaper, Caring for the Ages, and I interviewed some of the happy dog-owning doctors at the meeting.
Besides dogs accompanying medical directors to nursing homes, some organizations like Love on a Leash (the Foundation for Pet Provided Therapy) can arrange pet visits to long-term care residents and other settings, Dr. Steinberg noted. Although a recent study suggested that the fur and paws of therapy dogs could pass methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and Clostridium difficile among humans, the evidence is not strong enough to deny nursing home residents and staff the psychological benefits of pet therapy, the medical directors said.
Dr. Christopher Patterson's dog Larry is featured in the Caring Canines calendar. Photo by Sherry Boschert.
The main purpose of the press conference, though, was to let people know they can see happy therapy dogs at work every day by purchasing the Caring Canines calendar, a fund-raising project that benefits research and education in long-term care through the AMDA Foundation.
It’s one way to share the love — without having to clean up any messes.
— Sherry Boschert (@sherryboschert on Twitter)