Sunday, July 24, 2011
Notes from July 2011 St. Louis AVMA Conference-Internet and Pet Health
These are papers from the July 2011 St. Louis AVMA conference. I’ve edited them to delete some of the vet only jargon and for space considerations. If you see (…) that means that information has been deleted due to these considerations. The ones listed here include HCM, and other heart related papers, treatments, papers on x-rays and echos, thrombosis, kidney disease, idiopathic cystitis, pain management, anesthesia and cardiac disease, supplements and other hazards for pets, and some other basic information I hope is helpful.
The Internet and Pet Health Information: Perceptions and Behaviors of Pet Owners and Veterinarians
Lori R. Kogan, PhD
Colorado State University
The internet is the most widely used source for health information; 59% of adults report
accessing health information online compared to 55% who visit their health care provider and
29% who talk to relatives, friends or coworkers. With the plethora of papers, conferences and
attention focused on the use of the internet in providing human healthcare information, the
dearth of information related to consumers’ use of the internet for veterinary health information
is startling. Given the fact that most pet owners think of their pets as family members, and are
just as vested in their pets’ health and well-being as other family members or themselves, it is
reasonable to assume that many pet owners are using the internet to help educate and guide
them in making informed decisions about the health of their pets. The limited studies that
have been done in the area of online pet health information and the behavior of online
consumers have found results similar to those in human medicine. A study by Hofmeister et
al. found veterinary clients rank the internet as the 3rd most likely source of information about
pet health - behind general practitioners and veterinary specialists, but ahead of family/friends
and other media sources. A recent poll of veterinarians found that 67% report that their clients
frequently bring internet information to their visits.
Although there are an abundance of health related websites available, the quality of these sites
and the information offered differs greatly. Studies that have investigated websites related to
specific veterinary topics have raised concerns about the accuracy, trustworthiness and
usability of available information. Research pertaining to veterinary anesthesiology information
online found that many sites were unreliable or inaccurate and similar findings have been
reported in other studies…
While the health careprofession in the past was viewed as more paternalistic, the trend is quickly becoming more
consumer-driven with changing expectations of clients/patients. Increasingly, they expect to
play a more active role in the decision making process and their own health. Access to health
information can change the role of the patient/client to a more active one and make a medical
consultation more collaborative in nature. The ability to bring information found on the internet
to their doctor can increase clients’ confidence in their ability to manage an illness and make
them more willing to ask questions…
A random sample of veterinarians and clients from two metropolitan US areas (and
surrounding cities) were surveyed for this study. Each clinic that agreed to participate in the
study was asked to distribute 100 surveys to their clients and a veterinarian survey to all their
Veterinarians correctly assume that most of their clients have access to the internet and most
use the internet to search for animal health topics. Clients reported searching most frequently
for specific diseases or medical problems, followed by nutritional topics, behavioral issues, and
medical treatments (34.3%). Most clients reported positive emotions as a consequence to their
online searches, feeling relieved, reassured and more confident in raising issues of concern
with their veterinarian.
Although clients access the internet frequently, they rank it 4th in trustworthiness. Veterinarians
are by far the most trusted source for pet health information with nearly all clients reporting that
their veterinarian is trustworthy, compared to significantly lower levels of trust placed in pet
owners with similar problems, family and friends and the internet…theneed to explain inaccurate
or misleading online information can result in more time needed with clients…Credible, reliable information on the internet may offer the benefit of helping create more knowledgeable, and therefore more compliant, clients without the need for additional office time…
Given veterinarians’ concerns over the quality of information online and their clients’ abilities to
discriminate among websites, it is noteworthy that only a small number of veterinarians
recommend specific websites, even though most veterinarians who made recommendations
report feeling their clients would follow up on these recommendations. In addition to website
referrals, many clients would like additional online services, including the ability to make
appointments online, ask short questions that do not necessitate an office visit, and learn more
about how to effectively use the internet to search for pet health information.
In essence, veterinarians will be tasked with becoming increasingly internet friendly and may
find that making internet recommendations for specific websites helps to increase the benefits
of health information online and minimize the potential drawbacks... it appears important to train veterinarians how
to assess websites for accuracy and reliability so they can pass this knowledge on to their
clients. It is clear that the use of the internet for health information, and pet health information
in particular will continue to expand rapidly. It is suggested that the field of veterinary medicine
take a proactive role and help ensure clients obtain credible information, thereby positively
impacting the client-veterinarian relationship and ultimately, the health of animals.
1. Elkin, N. (2008) How America searches: health and wellness. Available at:
%20Health%20and%20Wellness.pdf. Accessed April 30, 2010.
2. Murphy SA. Consumer health information for pet owners. J Med Libr Assoc
3. Hofmeister EH, Watson V, Snyder LB, et al. Validity and client use of information from
the World Wide Web regarding veterinary anesthesia in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc
4. Digital Clinic Study (2008) Available at:
http://www.avma.org/reference/digital_clinic_survey_report.pdf. Accessed April 30,
5. Jehn CT, Perzak DE, Cook JL, et al. Usefulness, completeness, and accuracy of Web
sites providing information on osteoarthritis in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc
6. Caron S, Berton J, Beydon L. Quality of anesthesia-related information accessed via
Internet searches. Br J Anaesth 2007;99:195-201.
7. Abrahamson JA, Fisher KE, Turner AG, et al. Lay information mediary behavior
uncovered: exploring how nonprofessionals seek health information for themselves and
others online. J Med Libr Assoc 2008;96:310-323.
8. Wald HS, Dube CE, Anthony DC. Untangling the Web--the impact of Internet use on
health care and the physician-patient relationship. Patient Educ Couns 2007;68:218-
9. Lo B PL. The impact of Web 2.0 on the doctor-patient relationship. Journal of Law,
Medicine & Ethics 2010;38:17-26.
10. McMullan M. Patients using the Internet to obtain health information: how this affects
the patient-health professional relationship. Patient Educ Couns 2006;63:24-28.