Internet Medicine

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A story surfaced earlier this year about a veterinarian in Texas, Dr. Ron Hines, who was helping pet owners with veterinary issues over the Internet.? He sometimes offered the advice for free, and other times he charged for his services. He never made much money, it's said. And what I've read makes me think his heart was in the right place and that he was actually very good at what he was doing. it's said he helped a lot of pets.

Unfortunately, he was practicing veterinary medicine without a direct examination of the animal, a violation of Texas law. And when the Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners found out, they told him to stop.

Hines has now filed a lawsuit, citing the First Amendment (free speech).

Some people believe this case will end up at the Supreme Court and that it could have a significant effect on many different professions. I hope that means it will not allow the practice of medicine via the Internet, that these practices will not get the green light.

It seems that requiring a veterinarian, or physician, to actually examine the patient before dispensing medical advice is a no-brainer. How can you have sufficient knowledge of an ill animal without actually seeing and touching him' How can you trust that a lay person?s description of a bump is clear enough to know for certain that the bump is a sarcoma and not a tick burrowed under the skin'

Of course, most of us have received advice from our own veterinarian at one time or another over the phone. When I called my veterinarian about my mare?s colic, he confidently told me what to do because he was knew me (hopefully, meaning he was aware that I was intelligent, educated about horses, and responsible). He was also familiar with the horse, her personality and chronic issues. This made both of us secure.

How does this differ from getting advice through an ask-the-vet forum on the Internet or by writing in your question to a publication like this one to be answered by one of our experts'

Well, first, the responses to questions like these don't offer a diagnosis. They give possible scenarios and describe similar cases. They ask questions: Was it cultured' Did the vet do X blood test' They help the question askers look at their own management practices to see if tHere's a problem. The response offers expert advice only.

Some folks always try to find the cheapest, simplest solution to a problem, and the Internet has become their crutch. I've seen questions in chat rooms marked ?emergency.? Seriously' If I have an emergency, I'm going to pick up the old-fashioned telephone. My animals are too important to me.

The Internet is full of knowledgeable people offering pearls of wisdom. But, until we can ?beam? our pets from one place to the other, it's best if the person who gives you an actual diagnosis, treatment protocol and prognosis is one you can reach out to, shake his or her hand, and say, ?Thank you.?

Cynthia Foley, Editor-in-Chief