Blog: The Dangers of an Internet Diagnosis

The internet can be a wonderful and amazing place.  Where else can you search for answers, catch up with friends, and find endless hours of entertainment all from the comfort of your couch?  While I am incredibly grateful for all that the internet offers, I take advantage of it with a very healthy respect for all of the bad information that can be found on it as well.

I recently saw a post on Facebook that claimed to be from someone who did an “internet search” to identify some objects that were found in a parking lot.  (Some of you may be familiar with this post.)  The individual stated that their internet search revealed that these items were bullets from an automatic assault rifle and they were shocked that someone would leave these dangerous items out for anyone to find.  These items were, in fact, parts for a screwdriver.  You may ask, “What does this have to do with my dog or cat?”

I can not tell you how many times I see equally frightening information about the health care of animals (not to mention people) on the internet.  Medical knowledge continues to evolve and improve and it is the job of healthcare professionals to stay current on this information.  Recommendations that were once routine can become outdated when newer and safer alternatives become available or if new information shows us significant health risks associated with those recommendations.  Even worse than using outdated information, is referencing information that is just plain wrong or even dangerous.

I think that oftentimes people seek the internet for information because is handy and has no perceived cost.  It seems far more affordable (and maybe comforting) to do an internet search to get immediate answers and possible treatment options.  The problem is that the internet may offer a diagnosis or treatments but there is a significant risk that the information does not even apply to your pet’s condition, is outdated and no longer considered safe for any pet, does not take into consideration your pet’s current conditions and medications and may not be safe for your pet, or it will interfere with the treatment that your veterinarian would need to start to help your pet feel better.  The internet will not be able to consider medication interactions or medications that should not be given if your pet has certain conditions.  This means that starting treatments that are found on the internet may unnecessarily put your pet at risk or delay the treatment that your pet needs.

The recommendations that we make are based on many factors including our previous education, current and on-going education, clinical experience and the information that we have about your pet and their specific needs.  While the internet knows a lot…this particular knowledge database is something that can not be found on the internet.  It is the job of healthcare professionals to know what is relevant and safe.  So, until an app is developed that can replace your veterinary team, it is always best to ask the professionals for a diagnosis and treatment.

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