I recently linked to an article on the Well Blog about a child with Asperger's Syndrome in NYC. The boy's parents were at odds with their housing co-op about the boy's need for an emotional support dog in the no-pets-allowed complex.
Roy said that's what docs get to do: determine medical necessity.
Commenters on our blog and the Well blog were mixed, and I really don't have enough facts to feel comfortable commenting on the situation.
It did get me thinking about the concept of Medical Necessity and before I start rambling, let me say that I didn't see the term "medical necessity" on anything associated with the kid and dog case. What I read simply said that doctors thought a dog would help the boy, that the co-op agreed to let him have a small dog with many stipulations attached, and the feds, specifically HUD, took on the cause and felt the co-op discriminated against the family. You can read Here.
Medical Necessity is a funny concept, one I'm not always 100% comfortable with. I think the issue here is that when we as physicians deem something Medically Necessary, it implies some imposition, usually financial, but in the case of the service dog--furry-- on someone else. Usually we use the term to mean that it's something someone's health insurance should pay for that they don't (or may not want to) pay for. If there's not a cost (financial or otherwise), then one can leave it at "My doctor said to do ...." and there's not a reason to deem it "medically necessary." That's a term that goes in writing and means someone, somewhere will find it inconvenient.
I don't usually declare that things are Medically Necessary from a psychiatric viewpoint, except for specific medications-- sometimes Name Brands (as opposed to generics) and then because the patient has tried the generic and found that either they don't work as well or they cause side effects. The other Medically Necessary things I recommend are sessions (ie, treatment is medically necessary) or Hospitalization...ah, the joys of managed care. Sometimes I tell people to stay home from work, especially if I feel their behavior during an episode of illness puts them in jeopardy, and I'll write a note saying they need time off, or that they were at a doctors' appointment, but this usually doesn't require a statement of medical necessity, per se, it falls under sick leave. My stationery doesn't even say I'm a shrink, and unless I'm specifically asked, I don't volunteer that in "doctor's excuse" notes.
In the case of the dog and the kid, the term "medically necessary" wasn't used-- it was simply said that the dog might be helpful to the boy. What about another occupant who might require a animal-free environment? How do we determine whose rights trump whose? Maybe this is a bad example, because one can envision that one condo owner could live with a dog in such a way that the other people in the condo aren't disturbed by it and the presentation by the press left the reader feeling that the complex owners are unsympathetic child and dog hating meanies who were being unnecessarily arbitrary. I got curious and did a little googling-- it seems the dog would be going through a training process with the boy. The other issue was concern by the building about the area around the entrance to doctors' offices in the building.
So this is my concern with extending the definition of what is a disabilty and what we should do as a society to accommodate the needs of the disabled: if the issues get too diffuse, then ultimately the laws to protect the disabled hurt them. Don't want any autistic kids here because then we'll have to allow their dogs. Okay, maybe that's silly, but the issue isn't just what one group needs, it's also the fear of being sued because of the perception of injustice, or the fear of having to accomodate. The issue of medical necessity feeds into this unless we hold to a fairly strict notion of what is medically necessary, and as doctors.
If you want to read more about the kid with the battle for the dog:
Try this or this.
And just to be clear, this is a rambling post. Most often, 'medical necessity' is a term that has to do with Medicare reimbursement...somehow I've gone off about service dogs and co-ops and broader implications to society.