By Ann Hohenhaus, DVM
I can spot an internet-savvy client a mile away. They usually have a ream of computer printer paper poking out of their handbag or stuffed in the storage pocket of their cat carrier. If the pet owner has consulted a good website, my job is easy. We can have an informed discussion of their pet’s medical problem and I can build on their self-taught knowledge base. If they visited an inaccurate website, my job becomes more difficult, as I have to undo myths and misconceptions. Since 30-40% of pet owners with a sick pet visit a website before they visit their veterinarian, I have created three guidelines for wise internet use in the pet healthcare field.
1. Use reputable websites.
When I am searching for health information for myself, I go to the websites of well-respected institutions and organizations: National Institutes of Health, Mayo Clinic, or Johns Hopkins University, for example. The same holds true when you search for pet health information – visit websites of well-respected institutions like The American Veterinary Medical Association and the Food and Drug Administration Veterinary Page. Visit the WebMD Healthy Pets Community to see more reputable websites for pet health information.
2. Know the author.
When deciding whether or not to believe the information you find on the internet, check the author’s credentials. Each WebMD Expert has a biography page where you can read about them and learn their areas of expertise. Some websites just list the author as “ACME website staff.” This gives you no opportunity to determine how qualified the author is to write on the particular topic. Recently, I found a website where medical information was being dispensed by a dog walker. While this person is knowledgeable about dogs, I would look elsewhere for information on medical care for my dog.
3. Understand the website’s editorial policy.
Once an article has been written for a website, ask how that article has been “vetted.” You might find that information in the “About Us” section of the website.
I checked with Susan Segrest, executive editor of Vetstreet.com. She says, “For all of our medical content, not only are many pieces written by veterinarians, the articles go through an additional veterinary review. During this stage, veterinarians who are also editors will assess facts and advice and send questions back to writers for more information. They may also discuss the articles with other members of the Vetstreet medical team or request that we send the article on to a veterinary specialist for additional review.”
While you are clicking and printing, keep in mind the internet can only provide information; those of us who write for websites cannot diagnose and treat your pet’s medical condition by bits and bytes, only your veterinarian can do that.