Q&A: The importance of a personal veterinary-client-patient relationship

Dr. Andrew Roark says despite all the advances in technology, until pets can talk, the physical exam is still essential.
Jun 01, 2013

Veterinarians who have a strong Internet presence, such as Andrew Roark, DVM, frequently encounter followers and fans who solicit veterinary advice in online forums. But Roark says that despite all the advances in technology, until pets can talk, the physical exam is still essential.

Q: How do you handle clients who seek veterinary 'advice' over the Internet?

A: E-mail, text, and social media posts are good ways to share information. They are not, however, good ways to explore issues. Too many nuances both in the clinical signs and in the communication process are left out in digital communication. This point was recently made by the American College of Physicians, so veterinarians aren't the only ones dealing with this issue.

For this reason, I have language on my public Facebook page ( http://www.Facebook.com/DrAndyRoark) that says, essentially, "If you are concerned enough to post a question on a doctor's Facebook page, then you are concerned enough to give your local veterinarian a call." If people contact our clinic through e-mail or our Facebook page, we call them or encourage them to call us. If they contact me with specific (or even general) medical questions on my own public Facebook page, then I do not respond (unless this person is one of our clients, and then I call or encourage them to call me). In an emergency, I would instruct people to seek care immediately, but that's about it.

Q: Is the exam essential for a relationship?

A: Pets can't tell us how they're feeling or what they've done. If you can't do a physical examination on a pet with some regularity, then you don't know that pet. In human medicine, unexpected findings on routine examinations are rare. This is because people are fully capable of saying things like "My ear hurts." For that reason, a physical exam is the only way to develop a real relationship with a pet. We need to put our hands on the pet regularly and whenever illness occurs.

Q: Do you think technology will ever reach a point that renders a physical examination unnecessary?

A: There is no substitute for seeing a pet in person and laying your hands on him or her. Unless technology can make pets as intelligent as humans and give them the ability to talk, this will not change.