One of my colleagues just emailed me to ask me about a website that does online vet consultations. I had never heard of it, so I went to the website. Basically, this is a website where you can chat online with “real accredited veterinarians with active licenses”. They mention that there are “real accredited veterinarians with active licenses” several time on the website. That raises all sorts of red flags for me.
Here is their description of an office visit at a regular veterinarian: You call your vet to ask a question, and are told you have to come in. You chase down your pet, drive there, sign in, wait, and wait some more, all while your pet is stressed out. The doctor comes in, rushes to complete the appointment, and you often don’t understand or recall all the information that you receive. Maybe you had a great experience but think of additional questions after you leave. Not to mention the price tag.
I could spend a lot of time dissecting this paragraph, but I want to assure my readers out there that this does not have to be the office visit experience at the vet. It is important that a patient is examined by a doctor for various issues, but I am more than happy to answer questions over the phone, if I can. If I have seen your pet recently and we are discussing the same issue, I am happy to extend our conversation via phone or email. I hope that I don’t give the impression of being rushed. One of my goals is to listen carefully to each client so that I can be sure to understand her pet’s issues. After a thorough exam and discussion of the issue, I provide written materials. It is hard to remember a lot of information after an appointment.
I know that I am not the only veterinarian around who follows these procedures. I am currently part of a group (the Association for Veterinary Family Practice) that is working toward creating and training specialists in Veterinary Family Practice. It goes against all of our ideals to provide an office visit as described on that website.
My concern about this website is that they give examples of diagnoses that are made over the internet without the vet examining the patient. One example that I saw was discussing a cat that was losing weight and walking down in her back legs. The online vet said that this cat had diabetes. These two signs do put diabetes at the top of the list of possibilities. But the cat could have neurological disease or cancer or something else going on as well. If there was a checklist we could mark off to diagnose diseases, anyone could do it and medical school would be useless. It doesn’t work that way. One of my vet school professors said that the most important part of a stethoscope was in between the earpieces. All of that information they fed into us for 4 years and then we continued to build on allows us to practice this craft. And it requires all of the senses, including touching!
I guess my take-home message is to be careful on the internet. There are responsible websites where you can seek vet advice (check out www.petdocsoncall.com), but there are some that go a little too far. If you’re not sure about them, ask your vet!