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Online Advice Gets Shaky Welcome

Drs. Jed and Laci Schaible say VetLive.com will not diagnose, offer perscrpitions, alter treatment plans or recommend any type of therapy.

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A new fee-based online veterinary advice service for pet owners has met with some contention in the veterinary community.

Jed Schaible, VMD, and Laci Schaible, DVM, of Bethlehem, Pa., launched VetLive.com to give pet owners round-the-clock access to veterinarians.

The husband and wife team said the website, which debuted in October, gives pet owners the opportunity to ask questions, get a second opinion or chat live from “the comfort of their own home at an affordable price.” Prices range from $12.95 to $34.95 and can be paid through Google Checkout or PayPal.

 

The Schaibles said having an online service where only accredited veterinarians answer pet owners’ questions was important. Other Q&A services may use “pet health experts” but the person answering the question may not be a veterinarian, they said. They contend that a lot of wrong answers and misinformation are being provided.

“Not only did we see an opportunity to increase the standard of care on online advice, we almost felt obligated to,” Jed said.

The service hasn’t been greeted uniformly with open arms, as evidenced on VeterinaryPractice News.com and other websites. But some vets do support it. (See  “What’s So ‘Outrageous’ About Web Vets?” on Page 22 in the December issue. To subscribe, click here.) 

The most basic concern is whether VetLive.com’s six veterinarians will practice medicine without a veterinarian-client-
patient relationship, or VCPR.

To diagnose and treat an animal, a valid VCPR must exist, something that cannot be established online, via e-mail or over the telephone, said Michael San Filippo, a spokesman for the American Veterinary Medical Association.

The AVMA encountered the VCPR issue this year when it joined with WebMD.com to launch Pet Health Exchange, an online community where visitors can discuss pet issues for free with AVMA member veterinarians. The vets do not diagnose or prescribe treatment. They provide only basic information and guidance since a VCPR cannot be established in such a forum, the AVMA noted.

The Schaibles acknowledge that a VCPR cannot be established with their service and, therefore, it will not diagnose, offer prescriptions, alter treatment plans or recommend any type of therapy.

The company website notes, “VetLive.com provides an online veterinary consulting service for educational and entertainment purposes only. … You understand that the service provided by VetLive.com is not a substitute for regular veterinary care for any of your pets or animals. You also expressly acknowledge that a veterinary-client-patient relationship will not be established.”

“You have to be very careful [with online services],” said Jason Merrihew, a spokesman for the American Animal Hospital Association, which has an online community for pet owners at HealthyPet.com. “You don’t want to violate the VCPR.”

Things can easily get lost in translation through such services, he said, and that’s why encouraging pet owners to see their veterinarian is important.

So what does VetLive.com do? Its veterinarians will explain diseases, medications or an already given diagnosis, accordign to the Schaibles. Owners can upload photos of their pet’s problem as well as medical documents to be reviewed by the veterinarian.

Clients can get overwhelmed with all the information they receive from their regular veterinarian, Laci said. Sometimes they need a moment to collect their thoughts and review information later, she added.

Why wouldn’t a pet owner just call her vet to review the information or to ask additional questions? Jed said  some pet owners do, but noted that the vet doesn’t always have time to call back. Other pet owners may feel intimidated, he said.

The Schaibles said they were surprised at the push back from the veterinary community, especially because similar services have been well accepted in the human health care industry.

“We want people to go to their vet,” Jed said. “We want people to spend money on the diagnostics needed. We want them to get the right care and proper medicine.”

The Schaibles said VetLive.com has been well received by pet owners.

“Everyone wants to get on the Internet nowadays. They are happy to have a source they can trust,” Laci said. 

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