Help clients think critically about Web sites

Help clients think critically about Web sites

Fight misinformation and reward curiosity with handouts that teach clients how to sort out pet healthcare fact from fiction.
Jan 01, 2008
By staff

Some clients accept everything you say. Some nod a lot and disregard your advice. And some nod a lot, then go home to check for themselves. As frustrating as this last set can be, many pet owners who seek pet health information online are conscientious clients you want to hang onto, says Dr. Andrew W. Rollo, an associate at Gibraltar Veterinary Hospital in Gibraltar, Mich. "If owners get information from a less-than-stellar Web site, at least I know they're interested," he says. "I just take some time to explain the facts if they've been misinformed."

While some people simply learn better on their own rather than face to face, in other cases, circumstances may prevent a pet owner from absorbing information in your hospital—for example, a client is in shock after learning that his dog has cancer. "When he gets home, he can look up treatment options for osteosarcoma on the Web, which helps him relax," Dr. Rollo says. You may have given this client the exact same facts, but the Internet is an additional resource that can reinforce your educational message.

As more and more Americans get human-health information from Web sites like WebMD, the trend is spilling over into veterinary medicine. Your job is to guide your clients to reputable Web sites. You may have some in mind, but clients are sure to look for themselves. Help them find reliable information by sharing these critical questions to ask about any Web site publishing healthcare information:

• Who runs the Web site? Web sites should indicate who is responsible for the site. Is it the government? A veterinarian? A pharmaceutical company? The source of funding can affect what content is presented, how it's presented, and what the site owners want to accomplish.

• What is the purpose of the Web site? A link, often called "About this site" or "About us," should clearly state the purpose of the site and help users evaluate the objectivity and trustworthiness of the information.

• Is the information documented and reviewed? Medical facts and figures should include references to clinical journals and other reputable sources. Also, opinions or advice should be clearly set apart from evidence-based information. And finally, health-related Web sites should include the professional credentials of people who create and review the material.

• How current is the information? It's particularly important that medical facts be up to date.

Here's the most important step: Encourage clients to discuss the information they find on the Web with you. "The biggest mistake owners make is that they get information from a disgruntled pet owner or anecdotal information from an owner who doesn't get the facts right," Dr. Rollo says. "It's up to us to help guide owners to the information that is beneficial to all involved—and especially the pet."