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BRIDGING EDUCATION AND POLICY GAPS ON SERVICE DOGS IN HEALTHCARE SETTINGS


Not unlike assistive devices such as wheelchairs, hearing aids, and visual communication boards, service dogs can be an essential aspect of their owners’ daily life and a key component in their social success and peace of mind. If an individual’s service dog is not considered a component to be included in a healthcare provider’s recovery plan, for example after an injury or surgery, a significant aspect of the individual’s lifestyle is excluded as well as a potentially invaluable resource could go unutilized. As the use of service dogs in today’s communities grows, there is also an imminent need for healthcare provider education on the value and uses of service dogs.

PARTICIPATION IN CARE

An especially significant scenario for both service dog owners as well as healthcare providers to consider is the inclusion or exclusion of service dogs in acute care settings, and additionally the potential risks and challenges that accompany these circumstances. Research has found that the separation of an owner from their service dog in some acute care circumstances often can be counterproductive and detrimental to the patient. Since service dogs, unlike regular pets and therapy dogs, are permitted to accompany their owners in public places such as airports, hospitals, and clinics under most circumstances, it is valuable for owners as well as healthcare providers before a crisis arises to be clearly aware of what criteria is legally acceptable for a request for removal and what is not. Some examples of reasonable limits of access are operating rooms and burn units or areas where infection control is essential to patient and staff safety. 

IMPORTANCE OF POLICY 

It is becoming increasingly vital for healthcare communities and facilities to not only educate their staff on service dog ADA law but also to consciously develop and integrate compliant, transparent policies on service dog participation within healthcare programs. While it is not a healthcare provider’s responsibility to care for a service dog and a severely ill owner must have arrangements made for care, there are circumstances when a service dog is an enormous asset to a healthcare team. For example, there are many well-documented circumstances where a service dog trained to identify and alert its owner and bystanders to impending health problems can speed treatment response time (such as with anaphylaxis, insulin levels, and several other conditions). Additionally, in less critical scenarios, service dogs help keep a patient calm prior to a procedure and can alleviate the need for more intrusive and stressful interventions, such as with autistic patients or individuals with cognitive impairments. 

Given that there is exponential growth in service dog use, it is inevitable that healthcare organizations will encounter an increasing number of individuals within their facilities with service dog ownership and requirements. The integration of service dog participation into healthcare facility programs has measurable benefits to large populations within our communities. Proactive education, policy development, and service dog integration support have a bright future in patient success for those who chose to partner with canine companions. 

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References:

Krawczyk, Michelle,D.N.P., A.R.N.P.-B.C. (2017). Caring for patients with service dogs: Information for healthcare providers. Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 22(1), 1-11. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.3912/OJIN.Vol22No01PPT45

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