Truth in advertising

How many veterinary websites have you seen that look like this:

State-of-the-art services… cutting edge technology… highest quality veterinary care… first rate pet care… animal clinic of choice for the XYZ area… advanced training… high-quality… advanced technology… compassionate care for all the animals we work with… unique… ultimate in care and convenience…

DVM AlmightThis kind of thing is common and ubiquitous. Some veterinary websites sound like they are written by the same folks who write ads for Saul Goodman. Many sites are grandiosely self-laudatory. If the verbiage on the sites is to be believed, these clinics are all brand new, equipped with millions of dollars’ worth of wondrous gizmos, staffed by selfless angels who weep at the thought of an animal in discomfort, and whose veterinarians are to the field what Dr Michael DeBakey was to human heart surgery.

“State of the art” is one of the most over-used, meaningless terms I’ve seen. Fifteen out of seventeen vet clinic websites I randomly viewed claimed to have state of the art equipment and facilities. This seems to be a reflex; if you don’t know what else to say about yourself, say you’re state of the art. Who can argue? But as professionals, we should make sure that our claims are at least remotely true.  “State of the art” is defined as the level of development (as of a device, procedure, process, technique, or science) reached at any particular time usually as a result of modern methods (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). It is impossible to argue that any general veterinary clinic employs truly state of the art methods, techniques, or equipment, given the constant change and development in the medical and technological fields. We may use techniques that are not yet outdated, and may even be pretty newly adopted for clinical use, but they are hardly state of the art. “Cutting edge” is likewise a meaningless term; it just sounds fancier and more medical.

And we should never confuse technology with competence or knowledge. My hospital is full of tech, and I use it every single day. Need your dog scoped to remove that pesky rock from his stomach? I’m your vet. Need an ultrasound? Ditto.  I’ve been able to get you fantastic digital x-rays for many years. Hooray for me! That does not, in any way shape or form, mean that my facility is “state of the art”. It means that I have spent money on making the art of veterinary medicine more enjoyable (and easier) for myself, and hopefully improving care and outcomes for my patients. Thousands of my colleagues are similarly equipped and skilled. That makes us pretty cool as a profession, but it doesn’t make any one of us special.

“Affordable” is another deceptive term. Affordable to whom? Who decides what defines “affordable”? The writer of the web page, that’s who. Saying you are affordable doesn’t make you so, but the writers of the page sure hope that you’ll believe it.

The veterinarians that I know are generally pretty humble and self-effacing. So what makes them go crazy when they write a website? Maybe they are humble when they have to own what they say (in person), and less so when they are behind the relative anonymity of a website. It’s not like there is someone signing each statement on each webpage, attesting to its veracity.  Maybe they think “it’s just marketing” and don’t realize how misleading it really is to those members of the public who are not used to critical analysis of what they are reading. Maybe they really do think that they are “all that” and use the website to put “that” forward, where they’d be embarrassed to say the same thing to a colleague face to face, knowing how pompous they’d sound.

Maybe it’s just me being Canadian, but vets who really do good work (and know it) don’t need to inflate themselves online or in person. Look for those vets who are secure in their abilities, whose websites reflect knowledge rather than ego and the need to compare themselves to their colleagues. I’d rather deal with a competent, confident, professional than one who feels the need to boast. The latter feels a little desperate.

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