I happen to enjoy hearing about what my clients are learning online. I sometimes come away with valuable new information, and I’m invariably amused by some of the extraordinary things they tell me- who knew that hip dysplasia is caused by global warming! Surf to your heart’s content, but be forewarned, not all veterinarians feel as I do. Some have a hard time not “rolling their eyes” or quickly interrupting the moment the conversation turns to Internet research. Who can blame them- they’ve grown weary of spending valuable office visit or telephone time talking their clients out of crazy cyberspace notions and reining them in from online wild goose chases. How unfortunate this is. Nowadays, people rapidly and reflexively reach for their keyboards to learn more about their pet’s symptoms or disease diagnosis online. It’s only natural (and in their pet’s best interest) that they will want to discuss what they’ve learned with their veterinarian.
Is there an effective way to communicate with your vet about your online research that is neither irritating to her nor intimidating for you? I truly believe it is possible, but it involves some work and planning on your part! Listed below are some secrets for success- things you can do to converse about your Internet research in a manner that is comfortable for you and your vet and, most importantly, beneficial for your pet’s health.
-I may be preaching to the choir, but I cannot overemphasize the importance of working with a vet who is happy and willing to participate in two-way, collaborative dialogue with you. Your opinions, feelings, and questions are held in high regard and enough time is allowed during the office visit to hear them. A veterinarian who practices this “relationship centered” style of communication is far more likely to want to hear about your online research than the veterinarian who practices “paternalistic care” (far more interested in telling you what to do than hearing about your thoughts, questions, or concerns). Remember, when it comes to veterinarian/client communication styles, you have a choice. It’s up to you to make the right choice!
-Let your vet know that you appreciate her willingness and patience in helping you understand how best to utilize what you’ve learned online.
-Ask your veterinarian for her Web site recommendations- those that have already been “vetted”. This is a collaborative approach that lets her know you intend to spend some time learning more, plus a respectful recognition of the fact that she is the one who has spent her career learning about your dog’s health issues.
-Wait for the appropriate time during the office visit to discuss what you’ve learned on line. Allow your veterinarian to ask questions of you and examine your precious poopsie rather than “tackling” her with questions and discussion about your Internet research questions the moment she sets foot in the exam room.
-Be brief and “to the point” with your questions. Remember, most office visits are scheduled for 15 to 20 minutes, max.
-Let your veterinarian know that you’ve learned how to be a discriminating surfer! You know how to differentiate between valuable online resources and “cyber-fluff”. You ignore anecdotal vignettes and Web sites trying to sell their products in favor of credible information provided by veterinary college Web sites and forums that are hosted by well-educated moderators who provide cited research references that support their recommendations. If you need a little refresher course on how to be a “selective surfer,” I encourage you to read Part One of this article (http://speakingforspot.com/blog/?p=654).
-When you begin conversation about your Internet research, I encourage you to choose your wording wisely. Communicate in a respectful fashion that invites conversation as opposed to “telling” your vet what you want to do. Most veterinarians don’t like being told what to do by their clients, and who can blame them? After all, we expect veterinarians to provide a collaborative approach- it’s only fair that they expect the same from their clients. Consider the following conversation starters about Internet research:
Approach one: “I’m wondering what you think about mixing some canned pumpkin in with Sophie’s food. I’ve been doing some Internet research about diarrhea and this suggestion seems to comes up frequently.”
Approach two: “I’ve been doing some online research and learned about the benefits of canned pumpkin. I want to begin mixing this in with Sophie’s food.”
Approach three: “I’d like to give Sophie some canned pumpkin for her diarrhea. A moderator from an online forum suggested I do this.”
Approach four: “I’ve been following an online forum about canine diarrhea. One of the moderators suggested I consider adding canned pumpkin to Sophie’s diet. How do you feel about this?”
Which of these approaches sound like invitations for discussion? Which are more likely to be a “turnoff” for your veterinarian? If you’ve selected approaches one and four as successful ways for broaching the topic of Internet research with your vet, well done! Give your dog a hug and yourself a pat on the back!
In the Internet, we have an extraordinary tool at our fingertips. I encourage you to be critical when choosing which Web sites you intend to take seriously and which ones you wish to visit for a good chuckle. Approach conversations with your vet about your Internet research thoughtfully and tactfully. These strategies are bound to create a win-win-win situation- for you, your veterinarian and your beloved best buddy!
Wishing you and your four-legged family members abundant good health,
Dr. Nancy Kay
Specialist, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.
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Listen to Dr. Kay’s interview – A Veterinarian Advises “How to Speak for Spot” on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross