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Overheard at the veterinary clinic: "What do you mean Dr. Google isn't right?"
From fantastical diagnoses to strange cures, the Internet can hamper our medical process.
Dr. Google anecdotes from clients provide hours of entertainment. I wish that I was as smart as Dr. Google and had all of the answers all of the time. Of course, we all know that everything online is 100 percent correct, right?
The Internet doesn't know best
My favorite Dr. Google story happened around 2004. It was a cold February day in Missouri when I met a young woman with her indoor, neutered male cat. She told me she had already looked online, knew what her cat had and did not expect foolishness from me trying to make a diagnosis myself.
Her cat had sores around the neck that had started within the past month. I decided to let her tell me her diagnosis. The client knew that her cat had Cuterebra larvae around his neck because the picture online looked exactly like her cat.
"That is very interesting," I said. I kept an inscrutable, friendly look on my face. Then, I decided against my better judgment to take a medical history.
"Have you seen any flies in your home, around the litter box, or anywhere? Have you seen any flies outside?"
She looked perplexed and said no.
I explained the life cycle of Cuterebra larvae and how animals get them.
She gave an apologetic look as I asked her if she'd like me to look at her cat. We were both cordial and moved on to the exam and my recommendations. Dr. Google doesn't know everything.
A problem for all professions
I thought veterinarians were the only medical professionals afflicted with Dr. Google syndrome, but I was mistaken. My physician told me it happens to her too. She tells patients that if they're ready for her to take a history, do an exam and order relevant tests, then she'd proceed. If not, she lets patients leave leave and they can return when they were ready to let her help.
I refuse to debate Dr. Google. I ask questions, provide accurate information and expect reason to prevail. Sometimes it's wise to indulge desperate clients and help them obtain nutraceuticals or vitamins touted online as a cure. But also advise the client that you don't have confidence it will be a cure.
Check the science and give information if you think the client needs to do the treatment as a kindness to them as long as it will "do no harm." Sometimes "do no harm" is debatable, and each veterinarian must decide where to draw his or her own line in the sand.
Joan Freesh, MS, DVM, owns St. Louis Cat Clinic in St. Louis, Mo.