WebMD's Pet Health Community and the AVMA: FAQ

Updated March 31, 2010


Q: What is the WebMD® Pet Health Community?

A: The WebMD® Pet Health Community is an online community on WebMD (www.webmd.com) where pet owners can interact, ask questions and discuss matters important to them.

The Community can be accessed from the Pet Health section of WebMD, which can be accessed by clicking on the far right (green) tab on the upper portion of the WebMD home page, or directly at http://exchanges.webmd.com/pet-health-exchange.

Q: What is the purpose of the AVMA collaboration with the WebMD® Pet Health Community?

A: The goals of this collaboration are to provide the public with credible, accurate information about their pets' health, facilitate interaction between pet owners and veterinarians, and to increase public visibility of the AVMA and the veterinary profession.

Q: How does the WebMD® Pet Health Community work?

A: Users must log in when they post on the forum. Any member can post a question or reply to one or participate in the discussions. Membership in the community is free. For more information, read WebMD's FAQs.

WebMD provides trained moderators to facilitate discussions, provide basic assistance, and make sure that forum participants adhere to the rules of participation.

Guest Experts are veterinarians who have been credentialed by both WebMD and the AVMA. They will provide basic information and guidance as well as start discussions about issues relevant to veterinary medicine and animal health.

Q: Will the WebMD® Pet Health Community provide veterinary advice?

A: Yes, but to a limit. Veterinarians participating in the exchange will not diagnose or prescribe treatment for any animal's condition. They will provide basic information and guidance, but pet owners will be encouraged to visit their veterinarian. This forum is not a substitute for proper veterinary medical care.

Why? It is unethical and, in most cases, illegal for a veterinarian to diagnose or make treatment recommendations without an established, valid Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship (VCPR). A VCPR isn't established online in a forum – it's established when a veterinarian examines an animal patient and there is an agreement between the client and the veterinarian that the veterinarian will provide medical care for that animal. For more information about the VCPR, view our VCPR FAQs.

Q: Why did the AVMA choose to work with WebMD?

A: Over the past few years, the AVMA has been approached by a number of animal health-related web sites that wanted us to partner with them. For various reasons, we opted to pass on those requests. When WebMD approached the AVMA, the goals they described for the Pet Health Community closely aligned with the AVMA's goals for public outreach. Millions of visitors go to WebMD each month as their trusted source of health information. More than 75% of the WebMD audience are pet owners. This community allows pet owners to interact with each other and with veterinarians and take an active role in managing their pet's health. Through our collaboration with WebMD to develop the Pet Health Community, we satisfy pet owners' needs for accurate, easily accessible information in a user-friendly format.

The AVMA feels our work with WebMD serves a need that we could not otherwise provide at this time.

Q: Why didn't the AVMA start its own exchange instead of partnering with WebMD?

A: Simply put, we don't have the resources to develop our own pet owner community comparable to the WebMD® Pet Health Community. In addition, why reinvent the wheel and develop our own community when there is a very successful and already established community available?

Q: How is material on the Healthy Pets section reviewed for accuracy?

A: The Healthy Pets section's material was written by a number of veterinary experts, many of them board-certified.

Q: Who are the guest experts?

A: Guest Experts are licensed veterinarians who have been credentialed by WebMD and the AVMA and have signed a contract that outlines their responsibilities.

Q: What are the criteria/requirements for Guest Experts?

A: Veterinarians interested in serving as Guest Experts must meet the following criteria:

  • Must be a member in good standing of the AVMA
  • Private practitioners must have an active veterinary license in the state in which they practice.
  • Academicians/industry veterinarians whose jobs do not require licensure must submit proof of employment by the academic institution or company/organization.
  • Be certified by an ABVS-accepted veterinary specialty organization or have a minimum of 3 years of practice/academic/industry experience.
  • Must agree to and sign the WebMD contract.

Q: What is the time requirement for Guest Experts?

A: Guest Experts will be "on duty" for a predetermined amount of time, scheduled in advance according to their availability. During that time, the Guest Expert will participate in discussions, answer questions, and start a discussion about an issue relevant to animal health and within their expertise. We expect the total time commitment during each week to average 5-7 hours. Guest Experts will be supported by WebMD moderators as well as AVMA staff during that time.

When you are not serving as a Guest Expert, you are still free to participate in discussions. You will be identified as a credentialed veterinarian when you do so.

Q: I am a veterinarian and I'm interested in being a guest expert. How can I apply?

A: Please contact Dr. Kimberly May or Sharon Granskog. We will send you the application/nomination form and provide you with more information.

Q: Do I have to be a Guest Expert to participate in the WebMD® Pet Health Community?

A: No, you don't. Any forum member can ask or respond to questions and participate in discussions. However, only veterinarians whose credentials have been verified will be allowed to identify themselves as veterinarians in their signature. This isn't a complex process, but it's necessary to avoid the possibility of people falsely stating they are veterinarians. We want people to know when they're receiving advice from a professional so they can make an educated decision.

Q: What feedback have you received?

A: To date, we have been both criticized and commended for this decision. Most of the responses have been positive, and many veterinarians have come forward to volunteer as Guest Experts. We are confident that this will be a very positive experience for pet owners as well as the veterinary profession.

Q: Why is there advertising on the site?

A: The AVMA is not compensating WebMD for developing and maintaining the forum. WebMD is a for-profit site that is supported by advertising revenue. The AVMA does not solicit advertising for the site.