Dr. Google, my vet and me: Partnerships in pet healthcare

“If you get sick, pray it’s something common, because if it isn’t, you’re in trouble!” That is what my Petfinder co-founder said after his experience as a radiology resident in one of the top hospitals in the country. The same could apply to pets.


heal blog vet partnershipsThe problem is that with better preventive care for people and pets it seems less and less likely that we’ll end up in the hospital for something common. And, with overworked hospital or clinic staff and harried doctors and veterinarians, we need patient advocates more than ever.


My pets seem to be on the extreme end of weird diseases and equally odd symptoms. When my old dog Jim started liking sweets and biting the ankles of visitors, I knew something was wrong. Those symptoms, however, weren’t enough to trigger concerns from my veterinarian. A little Internet digging — and I discovered that Jim could be suffering from anxiety, Cushing’s disease or a brain tumor. Next step? Back to the vet with printouts from the web? Not so fast.


You see, I’m worried that if I doubt my vet, I’ll offend my vet. If I offend my vet, she’ll distance herself from me and my pet. Then she won’t hear my concerns. Because I’ve heard so many vets complain about “Dr. Google,” because I’ve seen her sigh when I say, “I read online … ,” and because I knew she had another patient waiting in the room next to me, I realized I had developed trust issues with my own beloved vet. And that is a problem because it is, perhaps, the professional relationship that I value most.


Inviting Dr, Google to join you on your vet visit is like inviting Dr. Sheldon Cooper to give a presentation with you – you know you need him there, but you also know you may regret it. So how much of Dr. Google is too much? How do we draw the line between being a good partner to our vet and not overwhelm the relationship with misinformation and crazy, homegrown diagnoses? Where do we draw the line in our role as “partners” in our pet’s care?


The answer lies in finding the right veterinarian for your level of engagement in your pet’s health care.


For many years our doctors and veterinarians were the ultimate source for health information. Now there are three issues that converge to make that less clear-cut.

  1. The internet holds a wealth of health information, both scientific and anecdotal. Both could hold the key to your health mystery, but they could also freak you out unnecessarily.
  2. Like in human medicine, the cost of running a veterinary clinic has grown so much that it can be tough to spend as much time with each patient as the vet might like.
  3. There is just more to learn these days. More specialization means better treatment options, but less generalization may mean that it is harder to figure out what is wrong in the first place.


Old school vets were trained before Dr. Google, and some still seem displeased when you mention you’ve been searching online. Most vets these days, however, spend a fair amount of time referencing Dr. Google themselves. The difference between them and you is their training helps them weed out the crazy stuff.


The successful vet in the digital age expects you to be online trying to figure out what is wrong with your pet before you bring her to the clinic. And she is a willing partner in helping to distill what information is useful and what is not. She will inherently understand that you know your pet better than anyone else but also help you see when you might be too close to the problem.


But this is a two-way street. A successful veterinary relationship works on trust and respect in both directions. You’ll find that your veterinarian will welcome your questions and your briefcase full of Dr. Google support documents if he knows you are coming from a partnership point-of-view, not a place of distrust.


Two things can make a big difference in how you are perceived: 1) how well do you organize the information you bring to your vet (a concise but thorough history, honesty, and organized concerns) and 2) how well do you follow up on after-care when you do find a solution together.


If you do your part well, then it is fair that the next generation of vets be (partly) measured on their ability to help you make sense of all the data, information, and anecdotal “evidence” you find online. They will help you distill it into a list of information that is relevant and, eventually, help you formulate a testing or treatment plan.


The Dr. Google-empowered pet parent may even strengthen the effectiveness of a creative, solution-oriented vet. Just like any team, there is strength in numbers. Finding the right vet for your level of engagement is key to the team’s success.


One of the advantages of a house call veterinarian is that their time with you is more flexible; they aren’t required by their practice to seeing a certain number of patients each day. So if you have been consulting Dr. Google, let your Heal House Call veterinarian know you’d like to spend a little extra time with her or him to talk about what you’ve learned.

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