Why Some Vets Can't Stand the Internet

Internet Research

The Internet is viewed by most veterinarians as a marvelous tool. Like you, we Google away with impunity, intent on attaining superior accessibility to subjects that span the spectrum of our interests and pique our curiosity. We’d be loath to lose it. Yet when it comes to our clients, some among us would rather not be asked to deal with it. Who needs reams of printouts on the dubious benefits conferred by mega-dosed vitamins, snake oil preparations, and juiced-fruit cancer cures? Who needs diagnoses and treatment regimens second-guessed based on questionably sourced online outlets?

In fact, for all my work as an “Internet vet” populating sites like this one with engaging, well-founded and fully vetted content, you can nonetheless count me among those veterinarians who look askance at a thick sheaf of papers that represent recently downloaded content I “should definitely read before we proceed with Cookie’s treatment.”

I’ll confess: Such requests typically fill me with dread. Call me lazy, but I do not relish the prospect of examining what too often amounts to kooky, pseudo-medical information owners are understandably drawn to for the hopefulness they offer pet owners who are at their wits' end. That doesn’t mean I won’t read them. Indeed, I usually will. But it’s no fun — more so given that I usually find myself explaining why x, y, and z probably won’t work and why it’s most likely a very bad idea. (All of which makes me feel like a great big meanie.)

Other Veterinarians Cringe Too

I’ll also confess on behalf of my profession: It’s true that, as a profession we tend to recoil when our clients bring forth the fruits of their online labors. In case you’re thinking I might be overstating things, these conclusions are well documented in peer-reviewed research published in 2003 and 2008 in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

The 2003 paper conducted a search for “canine” and “osteoarthritis,” then ranked the validity and utility of Internet information. The veterinary surgeons involved in the study were clearly not impressed by their surfing escapade, given this scathing conclusion:

“Results suggest that the quality of information currently available on the Web that addresses [osteoarthritis] in dogs is questionable. Although most of the sites conveyed some conventional information with reasonable accuracy, the information was incomplete, of minimal use, and often considered counterproductive.”


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