Angry beyond words? Try this when you or your veterinary team has been attacked online

Turn negative reviews into positive opportunities.
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Apr 30, 2014



Jeff Werber, DVM, owner of Century Veterinary Group in Los Angeles, says it's OK to write back when critics take to the Internet. His advice? Take the high road, do it publicly, see if there's anything valuable to learn, and attempt to educate. Here are some online reviews—both real and hypothetical—and appropriate responses.

1. Show your sincerity

Review: Do not go to Dr. Sally Smith at ABC Animal Hospital! She'd rather kill pets than help them. If I could give negative stars I would. I took my 19-year-old cat to this emergency clinic because I found her lying on the floor motionless and gasping for air. I explained that she's under the constant care of our local vet for chronic renal failure and pancreatitis and is on meds for high blood pressure and to stimulate appetite. The vet went on and on about wanting to do full diagnostics on my cat, including x-rays, bloodwork, tests for kidney values, etc. I'm out of work right now and I've already spent close to $2,000 in the last two months on my cats. I just wanted the vet to stabilize her until I could get her to my vet in the morning. She clearly didn't like that option and said I would have to sign a waiver saying I refused their recommended diagnostics. She launched into a monologue about me needing to consider euthanizing my cat. Believe me, I've had plenty of "quality of life" discussions with my current vet, so I thought she was completely out of line to bring that up, especially since my cat wasn't in a life-threatening situation. I guess the most inexperienced doctors get to work holiday shifts.

Response: First, I am so sorry that we obviously didn't connect. As an emergency doctor, I don't have the luxury of really "knowing" my patients or their owners—a bond that is very important, and one you clearly have with your regular veterinarian. When we see critical cases come through our door, like your cat that evening unable to breathe, emergency doctors don't have the luxury of time. Unlike a general care practitioner who sees their patients more regularly and not in such critical condition, an emergency veterinarian faced with a life-and-death crisis does need to run many tests immediately, because the results often dictate the direction of care. The "stabilization," as you requested, may differ depending on the results of the tests. We know emergency care is often costly, but money is not our goal—saving lives is!

As veterinarians, we take an oath to relieve animal suffering. True, "suffering" is a very subjective concept, and one that is often difficult to judge when there's deep emotional involvement with a dearly loved pet. My objective was not to push you in any direction or to make you in any way feel guilty for choosing to pursue more treatment; I was merely letting you know that it would have been totally OK for you to consider saying goodbye given your cat's age and failing condition. I'm sure that your regular veterinarian has told you that most cats never reach 19 years of age and those that do often succumb to kidney failure—a slow, uncomfortable passing. Though difficult to face, your lovely cat was in a "life-threatening" condition that night.

As a "parent" to four cats myself, two of which are seniors, I do know what you are going through, and I apologize profusely for not delivering the message as I intended to do. We have a number of internal medicine specialists on our staff and would be happy to set up a call with you, your general practice clinician and one of our specialists to see what more may be done to keep your cat comfortable.