It happens regularly in equine medicine: A client shows up at your door having investigated the symptoms of his or her horse's condition on the Internet or via the second- or third-hand knowledge of friends, family, or the guy at the feed store. It's this disease, right, doc? Clients are showing up at appointments with more and more symptom lists and self-made diagnoses, says Dr. Erica Lacher, owner of Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Gainesville, Fla. She says it's a result of the younger generation poking around on the Internet, an everything-goes environment of sound medical advice peppered with harmless but useless treatments and some dangerous suggestions. Here are ways to manage clients' well-meaning but often incorrect diagnoses and information, courtesy of Dr. Lacher and Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Dr. Jim Guenther, MBA, CVPM, a consultant with Mountain Management and Consulting in Asheville, N.C.:
> Start appointments by addressing the client's concerns, worries, and opinions. Reassure the client, says Dr. Guenther. "If the owner thinks the horse is lame in the left-front but your first instinct is to look at the gait from the right-front, check out the left-front first," he says. "This reassures the client that you heard him, that you respect his intelligence and his opinion."
> Ask clients to keep you in the loop. Dr. Lacher encourages clients to call or e-mail her with questions. She shares with them online sources she trusts, like The Horse and the AAEP Web site, and asks them to send her links to online sources they're not sure about.
> Be nice. If the remedy the client found on the Internet doesn't hurt, it can't be too bad. Some of Dr. Lacher's clients have gotten some New Age-y suggestions, like chanting and magic crystals. While Dr. Lacher doesn't prescribe such methods, she says she's got a respectful answer for innocuous treatments as long as they don't interfere with her medical recommendations: "Well, I haven't tried it personally, but it certainly can't hurt."
For more on educating equine clients, check out the August issue of Veterinary Economics, coming soon!