This is the sixth part of an ongoing series describing how people are developing new expectations when it comes to veterinary care for their pets. Parts one through five can be found at http://www.speakingforspot.com/blog. Please take your time with this one- I realize it is a lengthy post, but there is a great deal to say about this worthwhile topic!
When your beloved pet develops a medical issue, chances are you’ll be inclined to do some Internet research and then talk with your vet about what you’ve learned. Know that having this discussion with your vet is a perfectly reasonable expectation as long as you are careful to avoid using valuable office visit time discussing “whackadoodle” notions gleaned from cyberspace. Here are some pointers to help you find instructive, accurate, worthwhile Internet information while avoiding “online junk food”. By the way, although I’m a veterinarian teaching people how to better care for their furry and feathered family members, please know that this information also applies to your own health care.
So, let’s begin. How can you determine whether or not a website is dishing out information that is worthy of your time? Here are some general guidelines:
1. Ask your veterinarian for her website recommendations. She might wish to refer you to a specific site that will supplement or reinforce the information she has provided.
2. Veterinary college websites invariably provide reliable information. Search for them by entering “veterinary college” or “veterinary school” after the name of the disease or symptom you are researching.
3. Web addresses ending in “.org,” “.edu,” and “.gov,” represent nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and governmental agencies, respectively. They will likely be sources of objective and accurate information.
4. If your dog has a breed-specific disease, pay a visit to the site hosted by that specific breed’s national organization.
5. Avoid business-sponsored websites that stand to make money when you believe and act on what they profess (especially if it involves purchasing something).
6. Be ever so wary of anecdotal information. It’s perfectly okay to indulge yourself with remarkable tales (how Max’s skin disease was miraculously cured by a single session of aromatherapy), but view what you are reading as fiction rather than fact.
7. I really love disease-specific online forums. Check out those sponsored by Yahoo (http://groups.yahoo.com). Not only do many of them provide a wealth of educational information, members can be a wonderful source of emotional support- always a good thing for those of us who share our homes and hearts with an animal. If you are considering joining an online forum, I encourage you to look for a group that focuses on a specific disease (kidney failure, diabetes, etc), has lots of members, and has been around for several years. For example, an excellent Yahoo group AddisonsDogs has 3,391 members and has been up and running for eight years. A large group such as this typically has multiple moderators who screen participants, screen comments to keep things on topic, present more than one point of view (always a good thing), and provide greater round-the-clock availability for advice and support. Look for presentation of cited references (clinical research that supports what is being recommended). Such groups should have a homepage that explains the focus of the group and provides the number of members and posts per month (the more the better). They may have public archives of previous posts that can provide a wealth of information.
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. What can you do to realize the expectation of discussing your online research in a way that is neither irritating to your vet nor intimidating for you? Listed below are some secrets for success:
-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 (please reference my earlier blog about relationship centered care- http://speakingforspot.com/blog/?p=1174). 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.
-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 websites trying to sell their products in favor of credible information provided by veterinary college sites and forums that are hosted by well-educated moderators who provide cited research references that support their recommendations.
-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.
In the Internet, we have an extraordinary tool at our fingertips. I encourage you to be selective when choosing which websites 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 facilitate constructive conversation and create a win-win-win situation- for you, your veterinarian and your beloved best buddy!
Have you had conversation with your vet about your Internet research? If so, how did it go?
Now here’s wishing you and your four-legged family members abundant good health.
Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
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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, and your favorite online book seller.
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