"But I read it on the Internet!"

"But I read it on the Internet!"

Are your clients getting on your nerves with all their questionable Internet diagnoses? Well, give 'em a break—they love their pets enough to do their homework.
May 01, 2008

Do you ever get frustrated or annoyed when clients come to your practice loaded with medical information they found on the Internet—especially when it's wrong? Do you find yourself grumbling about the misinformation the client is spewing? Who's the doctor here, anyway? Heck, if people can find instructions for building a bomb online, maybe your clients can just whip up some Otomax or Tresaderm too. Then they can buy themselves an ultrasound machine and a textbook. Who needs a veterinarian?

I know how you feel. I've been frustrated and annoyed, too. But the Internet's not going away, and you play an important role in helping clients filter out the junk.

Everybody's learning

You have no control over what's on the Internet. There are even online "veterinarians" prescribing drugs without ever seeing the patients. (One of my associates once got stuck way too long talking to a client who couldn't understand why we wouldn't diagnose and prescribe arthritis medication over the phone for an arthritic cat we'd never seen.) However, you do have some control over how information on the Internet influences you and your clients. First, remember that some of the information on the Internet is accurate. And clients who do their homework before coming to you to fix the problem are your good customers. You want concerned and involved pet owners.

Plus, I find that the Internet keeps me on my toes. I have to be prepared for the client who is conversant on a certain disease. On some occasions, a client comes armed with new information that I wasn't even fully aware of. Here's a recent example: A client called about a dog that appeared to have both male and female genitalia. I recommended that the client bring the pet in so we could determine what was going on. The client called back later with an Internet tidbit: This particular breed was predisposed to hermaphroditism. Who knew?

In with the good, out with the bad

Educating the client about a diagnosis is important. If you do a poor job—or maybe even a good job—the client will go to the Web for information. To ensure that clients get the most accurate information:
> Spend time discussing the medical problem with the client, and answer questions.

> Provide the client with a handout for each and every diagnosis you make.

> Offer a list of reputable Web sites with additional reading on the topic.

> Include links on your clinic's Web site to other Web sites that you recommend and to sites that offer useful handouts.

There's a quote from one of my favorite kid's books, We're Going on a Bear Hunt, that sums up the reality of the Internet: "We can't go over it. We can't go under it. Oh no! We've got to go through it." There's no way around the Web. We must learn to use it so we can outsmart all those people giving our clients bad advice.

Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Dr. Jeff Rothstein, MBA, is president of The Progressive Pet Animal Hospitals and Management Group in Michigan. Send questions or comments to