The whole family, one waiting room

Has the time come for physicians, veterinarians and environmental scientists to collaborate and work in teams to solve human and animal health issues? Is it time for physicians and veterinarians to work in adjacent offices caring for families and their pets? What would health care facilities that jointly care for animals and humans look like in rural and urban communities across America?

Creating environments where physicians, veterinarians and environmental scientists are focused on cross-disciplinary collaboration and team-based training is not a new idea. Rudolf Virchow, the father of comparative/cellular biology, recognized the relationship between human and animal health in 1858 when he stated, “Between animal and human medicine there are no dividing lines—nor should there be.”

The College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University has embraced a similar concept of “no dividing lines” by identifying “One Health” as one of its focal points in the University’s designated Grand Challenges. One Health recognizes the inextricable link between human, animal and ecosystem health, particularly relevant in Texas, as Texas is the second most populous state in the nation with the greatest number of cattle, horses, sheep and goats. Texas is also distinguished by its borders with Mexico and the Gulf, providing additional sources of human, animal and environmental challenges.

The One Health approach can be thought of as a paradigm shift in how we respond to the medical needs and healthcare treatment of humans and animals. Imagine a team of multidisciplinary medical and veterinary oncology experts providing state-of-the-art cancer treatment to children using methods that have proven effective in animals with the same condition. What if, instead of making separate trips to the veterinarian and the pediatrician, your dog and your child could be treated in the same clinic? What if your doctor and your pet’s doctor conferred about conditions that might be affecting you both? Imagine the whole family—both the animal and human members—receiving state-of-the-art health care from a collaborative team of wellness providers at the same location.

The traditional approach to medical care has been to identify a sick person or animal, identify the cause of the illness, and apply a therapy to reduce the symptoms of the disease. The One Health concept also focuses on surveillance of the environment, animals and humans to predict an outbreak or condition before it happens, bringing together physicians, veterinarians and environmental scientists to develop strategies that prevent the transmission of disease. This interdependence between human and animal health, and the environment in which they live, underpins the concept of One Health. Solutions to health conditions and diseases demand collaboration between experts in many disciplines, professions and organizations including human medicine, veterinary medicine and environmental sciences.

Population growth, resource shortages, wild habitat destruction, global warming, natural disasters, the information age, urbanization and political revolutions are combining to create a highly interconnected and interdependent global community with unprecedented public health challenges. In an attempt to confront these challenges and as we consider new concepts in healthcare, we must identify innovative ways to provide opportunities for physicians, veterinarians and environmental scientists from across various disciplines to learn, work and find solutions. Working together we can make a positive difference in the lives of animals and humans across Texas, the United States and the globe.

Room for the whole family in one waiting room might be closer to becoming a reality than we think. Working together with our medical colleagues will provide new and exciting ways to help Texans live healthier lives.

As the home to the only College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences in the state of Texas, Texas A&M University has produced over 4,100 Aggie veterinarians currently practicing in Texas. It is also home to the Veterinary Emergency Team (VET), the first emergency response team in the state and the largest in the nation dedicated to responding to animal needs in a disaster.

Eleanor M. Green, Texas A&M University

Eleanor M. Green, DVM, DACVIM, DABVP, is the Carl B. King Chair and Dean of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.