Pet owners who look things up on the Internet have been a real theme for veterinarians telling us their vet peeves – after all, with nearly 90% of North Americans using the Internet, it’s no surprise that at least a few of those look up their pet’s health.
It’s important to remember, though, that they’re not all going to take the same approach in their research – and this means that you probably won’t be able to use the same approach for every instance.
As much as we hope otherwise, chances are you might run into a few Dr. Google pet owners over time – and when that day comes, it’s essential that you know how to handle it. After all, it’s a key part of customer service, and although bad reviews can be dealt with, it’s always better to avoid them in the first place, right?
So what kinds of pet owners might you run into – and how can you deal with them?

1. The “Wise Guy”

The Type: This pet owner likes to have all the information. He or she will look things up, and bring them to the office. This habit is often accompanied by the attitude that if the veterinarian’s information doesn’t match the Internet’s information, then the veterinarian is wrong – and for many, this is infuriating.
How to Deal: The number one thing is to keep your cool. It can be incredibly tempting to try and disprove the information this pet owner found online, but that won’t necessarily help the situation – and it might actively make the problem worse.
The thing about the Wise Guy is that this pet owner is already distrustful. Rather than making a big deal out of it, listen to what the pet owner is saying – and you might just be able to pick up on why they’re distrustful. Watch for cues that suggest a previous experience or possibly an underlying opinion.
When you explain your recommendations, there will likely be differences between what you’re saying and what the pet owner found online – but do try to illustrate any possible similarities. This way, the pet owner can see that it’s not necessarily a case of right or wrong. Be ready to explain your recommendations – and reasoning – in layman’s terms, and be firm, but not pushy.

2. The “Grasshopper”

The Type: This pet owner will probably be your favorite pupil. He or she tends to look things up because of a genuine curiosity in pet health. And yes, many pet owners use Google because they’re curious – the difference here is that this particular pet owner is very open and receptive to new information and suggestions.
How to Deal: The good news is that there really isn’t much you have to do to “deal” with this type of pet owner. You can do yourself and them a favor, though, and get a head-start on their searching to ensure that they don’t come in with bad information by accident.
Provide some reliable sources of information – whether that’s online articles or even your veterinary blog – and see how this pet owner’s knowledge flourishes!

3. The DIY Master

The Type: This pet owner loves to look things up so they can try home remedies before they concede to a pricy veterinary bill. If they can fix the problem without the price tag, they will try.
How to Deal: The issue with DIY pet care is that while home remedies do sometimes work, it’s hard to tell. Pets can’t verbalize and, in fact, will often hide their symptoms – meaning the pet owner might not pick up on a worsening condition until it’s too late. Then, when they do come in, it’s an emergency.
This is a tricky one to handle, especially when the concern is money. It may be a good idea to sit down with your client and discuss the differences in costs between regular preventive care and emergency care, to encourage them to bring pets in before they get sick at all.
You could also try providing the DIY master with a printout that details just how much preventive care costs at each visit, so they have an idea of what to expect and can plan for it.

4. The Reactive Researcher

The Type: This pet owner typically does their research when they get home after a visit. Sometimes they’re researching a condition that you mention their pet may be prone to, or perhaps a drug you’ve prescribed to their pet.
How to Deal: There is nothing wrong with wanting additional information after a visit – and in fact, it’s good to encourage your clients to educate themselves about pet health. However (and we can’t say this enough), the trouble with researching on the Internet is that it’s painfully easy to find bad information. If a pet owner looks up a medication and finds an article listing side effects that don’t really happen, for example, it could lead to the pet owner not following through – and then not understanding why their pet is still sick.
The ideal solution here is to answer as many questions as you can before the pet owner goes home, but obviously that isn’t always realistic. For those cases where you can’t answer every single question, it’s a good idea to make sure your client has access to information that supports your diagnosis.
For example, ClientEd has all kinds of articles on breeds, conditions, and medications that you can share with your clients, either by email, sharing on social media, or by providing access through the online portal.There are all kinds of Dr. Google pet owners out there, and though you may never encounter one, it’s best to be prepared and know how to work with them! These four aren’t the only types, but they can help you build a good foundation to win out against Dr. Google.

Leave a Reply