Not-So-Golden Age Of The Internet Vet

Most veterinarians view the Web as an amazing tool. We Google away with impunity, intent on superior accessibility to subjects that span the spectrum of our interests and coddle our curiosity. We’d be loath to leave the Internet behind.

Yet when it comes to our clients we’d rather they did without the Internet. Who needs the reams of printouts on the dubious benefits conferred by mega-dosed vitamins, snake oil preparations and juiced-fruit cancer cures?

Indeed, the plethora of wasted paper drives me crazy, too. But so, too, does the common veterinary assumption that all Web-based research is to be discarded out of hand, deemed incomplete or downright unconstructive just because our clients did the work.

After all, if you’re like me, you spend hours a week on the Veterinary Information Network, surf the Web for your veterinary news or drug data, and consider the Internet the single most useful tool for meeting your professional needs when it comes to jockeying for position in advance of the curve.

It’s nonetheless true that, as a profession, we like to disparage the Internet’s impact on our working lives and we recoil in horror when our clients bring forth the fruits of their labor.

If that’s your take on the Web, you’re in sage company. These conclusions are documented scientifically should you read the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Assn. and internalize its papers’ findings.

A 2003 paper on 30 websites called up after a search for “canine” and “osteoarthritis” ranked the validity and utility of Internet information at 1.3 out of 5, the higher value denoting excellence. The veterinary surgeons involved in the study were clearly not impressed by their surfing escapade.

A more recent study, in December, came to similar conclusions. The anesthesiologist authors urged veterinarians to counteract common Web-based misinformation with sound medical advice on breed-based anesthetic sensitivity. They went so far as to determine that websites authored by veterinarians were no less likely to reveal “incomplete” and “unconstructive” data than those penned by non-vets.

Hmm, could it be that the medium of the Web mystically transforms our excellent veterinary advice into gobbledygook? After all, the implication is that our professional advice is always solid and sound in the clinic, while advice provided by veterinarians on the Web is B-A-D.

As a veterinarian who authors a daily pet health blog with the client and veterinarian in mind, I’m offended by the assertion that Web-based veterinary information is more inaccurate and less responsible than the kind provided when a magical stainless steel table is added to the mix. 

Would the authors of these two scientific papers please get back to their desks and compare their Internet information to that offered by the average brick-and-mortar veterinary practitioner? Only then will we have papers worthy of scientific exploration into the depths of chaos the Web has purportedly exposed.

But then, practitioner-sourced misinformation is NOT a politically pleasing topic, while demonization of the Web is soooo much fun.

Of course, I well understand from my inexpert experience as a columnist that it’s far more exciting to tear down than to build, to criticize and revile than to forge and foster. I know why these papers prove so powerful. They play into our fears and propagate our bloodlust against that which we’ve already communally condemned.

But should it not be considered that the Web is an ecumenical environment into which every chip falls? Good and bad, we know it’s all there. Is the medium itself to blame? Obviously not–not unless you consider ready access to all kinds of information a bad thing.

Could it be that what’s at the heart of this ubiquitous veterinary Web-bashing is the emerging threat of competing concepts, novel approaches and an infinitely more informed clientele?

After all, we accept the Web when it helps us save money and research new tools, but not when it means our clients can beat us to the punch with legitimate therapies we’ve never heard of, new protocols we don’t subscribe to and advanced treatment options we don’t offer, and definitely not when clients cut into our bottom lines with requests for drugs and supplies they find online for less.

Sure, I’d love to see the Web cleared of everything I consider counterproductive. But one man’s annoying drivel is another’s enlightened finding. Do we really want all our information sanitized? Or just our clients’?

In my view, the Internet offers far better information than the kind our clients formerly gleaned from Dr. Trainer, Dr. Mother-in-Law, Dr. Breeder or Dr. Physician. So is Dr. Google really that much worse than Dr. Down-the-Street? Not unless you subscribe to the belief that more information, even the kind we can easily transform into a teaching point, is a bad thing.

Still hate the Internet? Fine.

If I can’t change your mind, perhaps I can convince you that what’s wrong with the veterinary version of the Web has more to do with what’s NOT there. Those of you who continue to revile the medium should take on a keyboard and start clicking. As they say, if you can’t beat ’em, you have no excuse not to add your voice to the mix. If you don’t like the Web, you have no excuse not to add your voice to the mix. <HOME>

Patty Khuly, VMD, MBA, is a small-animal practitioner in Miami and a passionate blogger at She writes on everything from medical and ethical issues to balancing personal time and work. She earned her veterinary degree in 1995 and her business degree from Wharton in 1997.


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