You Google your pet’s symptoms. I know. Everyone does. Sometimes you get a helpful nugget of info, other times you find yourself dousing your pet with kerosene or Lysol spray, all because you read it on the net and it seemed like a good idea at the time.
The internet it here to stay. Any vet who thinks their entire client base is going to rely on them to be their sole source of veterinary health information is either sadly misinformed or has an incredibly trusting group of clients. There’s nothing wrong with information, actually. I love the internet and I am happy to see clients go look up diagnoses and get educated. The job for vets, then, is to point clients to verified and correct sources for that information. An educated client > a client who just goes along with whatever > a client with harmful information.
I was intrigued when I met Drs. Laci and Jed Schaible of VetLive.com. The idea of an online ask-a-vet website isn’t new, but once I got to know them and what they were trying to do- provide accurate information from a trusted source to help owners make informed decisions with the help of their regular veterinarian- I became a fan.
Many of those online sites, even the ones who claim to be staffed by vets, are a little shady, so I asked Dr. Laci if she would write a guest post talking about what to look for in an online veterinary advice site, and how she and her husband have set up theirs to be a trusted resource. So without further ado, here’s Dr. Laci!
It’s never easy when people ask what my husband and I do. “We are vets,” we respond. “Really, both of you? That’s so cool!” Next they want to know where our clinic is, and then as consistently as a broken record, we get to have the awkward conversation that we are strictly online vets. Some people get it immediately, and others look at us very confused and ask, “but why aren’t you real vets anymore?”
Well, we still are. It was over a year and a half ago that my husband and I started working on our virtual vet hospital, VetLIVE. We had recently lost all three of our pets within one year and had navigated the corridors at the small animal hospital at University of Pennsylvania. Our pets needed advanced care–a kidney transplant, chemotherapy, and mega-voltage radiation therapy–the kind of stuff you can’t do at your average vet hospital. While we were still heartbroken in the end, we were able to navigate the pet health system so effectively, and while we still spent a pretty penny, we saved oodles of money knowing which tests were really necessary and which ones fell under the category more so of C.Y.A (Cover Your …) medicine.
It was this experience that motivated us to offer our knowledge to pet owners. Almost two years later, VetLIVE is up and running and we are having a blast. We provide a 24/7 direct to pet owner service worldwide. Yep, someone in Scotland woke me up this morning at 4 am, and it was a good thing because her dog had what I believe is bloat and she had no idea. The dog is stable, don’t worry.
You never know what you are going to get in the intangible online world, but here are some tips on how to choose an online vet straight from one.
- Timeliness in the vet’s response. If you are anxious or worried, you don’t want to wait 4 hours to get connected with a vet.
- Interaction. If you have additional questions, will they be answered or is it a one time shot?
- Quality. Will this be a single paragraph answer or will this actually be an impressive answer that knocks your socks off?
- Ability to upload pictures, medical documents, etc. We had one questions were I though the dog was suffering from something called vestibular disease, and then I asked the client to upload a video. We consulted with a board-certified neurologist who strongly believed it was atypical seizures. A pictures is worth a thousand words, and a video is priceless.
- Credibility. Are there bios of the vets and do you know who you will be talking to?
- Facebook/Twitter/Blog presence. Is there a community of people that trust these people?
- Unbiased aspect. If there are pet food ads or they are pushing a book or product, they probably have at least some ulterior motives.
- Is it strictly medical advice? We do a lot of financial advising when clients need it. Of course when a test is reasonable or warranted, we let the pet owners know. Some corners shouldn’t be cut, but if there are generic drugs available or someone’s vet is recommending annual full body x-rays as an annual “cancer screen,” (yes, sadly we hear this more and more) we are frank with the pet owner while trying to have as much tact as possible.
- What if you aren’t satisfied? What if you think the vet’s answer blows? Can you get your money back? A satisfaction money-back guarantee lowers the sketchiness factor.
- Is it free? Free services are not only going to be of lower quality, but you aren’t going to be able to chat with a vet at 3am for free. In life, you typically get what you pay for, and the online vet space is no different. After all, pet emergency hotlines charge fees, and they are significantly more than what we charge at VetLIVE.
- Intentions. Does this seem to just be a cash machine, or do there seem to be an good and genuine intentions? This is largely something you have to gauge yourself, but genera q&a sites tend to fall more on the cash machine side and a little less on the on the side of helping pets and their owners.
While my husband and I have zero intention of replacing brick and mortar vets with VetLIVE, I do feel strongly that there is a need for this service in veterinary medicine. We have been the traditional kind too, him for six years and myself for five, and we still practice here and there.
There is a lot of inaccurate information on the web, and I would recommend you spend some time scrutinizing the source. Do a Google search on the vet, hey, you can even look up their license and verify it if you want. And remember, if you ask one vet a question, and you ask another vet a question, you may get two different answers. More brains are better than one, and that’s what we offer pet owners the ability to ask a vet worldwide, day or night.