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

(970) 491-7984

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: 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.

No comments:

Post a Comment