Using The Internet To Research Challenging Cases

Google with Stethoscope

Pete The Vet Veterinary Surgeon

I’ve been qualified as a vet for thirty years now. There have been many changes in the working life of vets over that period – from mobile phones to new drugs to digital radiography. But perhaps the single biggest change to my daily decision making has been the influence of the internet. To new graduates of today, this may seem strange, but you need to remember that the internet is just 25 years old, it has only been in common daily use for around twenty years, and mobile phone internet technology only started around fifteen years ago.


The internet affects my work in two ways: first, clients doing their own research, and second, my own use for complex cases.


Most vets have come across clients looking up information about their own pets’ problems. It’s so easy to Google a pet issue now that it’s almost standard. The truth is, however, that for anything serious, the input of a vet is needed (even the Internet will tell you that) so most folk end up coming to the vet anyway. I encourage people to do their own research, even sending them helpful links about their pets’ problems. As long as the source is reliable, you can never have enough good information. In particular, websites for pets with specific problems (such as cats with renal failure or dogs with Myaesthenia Gravis) can offer tremendous support for owners.


My own use of the internet for dealing with complex cases has three different strands:


First, I will often do rapid research on issues using ‘Dr Google’ myself. What is the dose of a particular drug that I don’t use often? A quick internet search will bring up the NOAH data sheet for the drug. What diseases are a breed of dog prone to? What is the normal temperature of a hamster? What does a rare breed of dog look like? There are many common issues that the public internet can answer promptly. I also use Google Scholar when looking into academic aspect of an issue, while other references like the Wiley online library act as a useful quick information source.


Second, if I want to discuss a case or an issue with colleagues, there are several private veterinary discussion forums that I may refer to. My own two favourites are the website and the Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons (SPVS) Yahoo group. I also use a private email list for vets in my geographic area. These forums are vet-only discussion areas that allow confidential sharing of details of individual situations. Sometimes all that’s needed is to bounce a case off a few colleagues. Have they seen anything like this? Is a particular condition common in this area just now? Are there any local issues that I should be aware of?


My third way of researching complex cases is my favourite: Veterinary Information Networks ( I find this so valuable that any comments that I make on this website will be in danger of sounding like a promotional advertisement, but I can assure you that I am a regular, paying customer. You see, you do need to pay to use VIN: it costs £45 per month for a vet, which is a significant cost. But the value can be immense. There are lower fees for recent graduates and veterinary nurses, while veterinary students can use the service free of charge
My core use of VIN involves detailed sharing of cases, and getting a professional opinion from an independent expert. If I have any case that I find particularly challenging, I will type up a detailed account, including photographs, all laboratory results, radiography and ultrasound images and anything else that might be relevant. I’ll upload the whole lot to the message boards of VIN, and almost always, by the following morning I will receive the considered opinion of a colleague with a particular interest in that facet of veterinary science. I tell my clients that I’m doing this, and I feel that it’s a useful “extra” that they won’t get at any other clinic in our area.


‘Every veterinary practice has to consider what it can do to make itself different from the neighboring competition’


…this is one of our clinic’s unique selling points. Does it earn me an extra £45 per month, to pay for itself? That’s one of those intangible questions that’s hard to prove one way or another. I just know that it’s part of how I like to work as a clinician, and I see it as fundamental as paying my annual registration fees to be a vet.

There are many other helpful aspects to VIN, including the ability to search the archives of all other cases shared by other vets over the years, as well as online libraries of images and other information. It’s a treasure trove of veterinary science, and it’s a real community too: vets from all over the world share the issues in their lives – as well as clinical cases – via discussions on the message boards.


I know that there are many other online locations that other vets use in their daily work. We each find our own paths. But the bottom line is the same:

The internet has changed, forever, the way we tackle our daily work load.

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