Don't believe everything your clients read on the internet

What do you do when a client comes to you asking about something they read about pet care on Google? Especially if it’s clear to you that the client doesn’t fully understand what they’ve read?

If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it’s just a matter of time.

In one poll, 67 percent of veterinarians reported that their clients frequently come to appointments armed with information they found on the internet. And it doesn’t always bode well for the veterinarian-client relationship.

A new study of veterinarians in the United Kingdom recently published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science explored the impact of client internet usage on the veterinarian-client relationship (VCR). Using an online survey of 100 UK veterinarians, researchers analyzed the veterinarian’s perceptions of client internet usage.

Roughly 60 percent of those surveyed believed that most of their clients looked up pet health information online. But more striking is that nearly 75 percent of those surveyed believed that only about 40 percent of their clients understood what they read. This research backs up the finding of an earlier study of veterinarians in the United States.

The biggest problem pet health care professionals face is their clients’ faith in their own research skills.

A Pew internet study found that 92 percent of people who use search engines are confident about their search abilities, and 87 percent feel they’re successful in their searches most of the time. And 94 percent believe the information they were looking for was easy to find.

Approximately 55 percent of the veterinarians in the UK study considered clients doing their own online research as having a negative impact on the VCR. One respondent went to far as to write that “online misinformation is a major cause of stress and frustration to myself and colleagues.”

Perception of the impact on pets’ health was statistically a tossup. While 40 percent thought client’s online research had a negative impact, 37 percent thought it had a positive one.

One way that veterinarians can be proactive in improving client internet usage, and so improve its impact on the VCR, is write an information prescription for the client.

This means directing the client directly to a trusted internet site or sites that clients can look up on their own time that give a more complete and comprehensive explanation of information the veterinarian has verbally imparted during the client visit.

Some experts advocate that when dispensing an information prescription, veterinarians take the extra step of pulling up websites they recommend to clients on a laptop or clinic tablet during the exam itself to insure that the client is accessing the correct information.

Information prescriptions may be the best way to ensure that your clients are getting accurate online information. As one respondent wrote, “I find that Dr. Google is sometimes a very useful tool in supporting my advice and helps the client understand sometimes complex problems at their leisure.”

 Photo credit © MirasWonderland

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