Would You Let a Computer Recommend Drugs for Your Pet?
I recently read a disturbing article on the Veterinary Information Network (VIN) about a new “service” being offered by an online pet pharmacy that I think owners need to be aware of.
According to the VIN News Service (names have been changed or omitted to protect privacy):
The fax from the Internet pharmacy … requesting authorization to dispense two drugs for a dog named Frieda mystified the people at XYZ Animal Hospital.
Frieda is their patient but had never been prescribed either of the requested prescription drugs. One was azathioprine, an anticancer immune suppressant; the other, EtoGesic, a medication for osteoarthritis.
Frieda’s puzzled veterinarian asked a technician to contact the dog’s owner. She learned that the pharmacy had suggested the drugs for “bone health” and “GI health” after Frieda’s owner apparently recorded on the pharmacy website that her poodle occasionally had lameness and gastrointestinal issues.
Frieda’s owner confirmed that she’d placed the order but thought she was buying over-the-counter supplements along the lines of vitamins.
As she explained later to the VIN News Service: “When I went to the website, this popped up, and it was quite a great price and seemed like something she could use because she’s old and has trouble getting around. I thought, ‘Oh, this would be a great supplement.’ … I wouldn’t have ordered it if I’d known it was a prescription drug.”
Thankfully, Frieda’s veterinary hospital was on the ball and caught this “mistake” before any harm was done, but it’s possible that a fax like this could get inadvertently approved and returned to the pharmacy in the midst of a chaotic day. I’ve also heard veterinarians tell stories about how their clients have received prescription drugs from online pharmacies that the doctors are 100% sure they never authorized. Imagine what could have happened to Frieda if either of the scenarios played out in this case.
I do not mean to malign online pharmacies by bringing this to your attention. It has been my experience that the reputable ones out there generally do a good job, but this is over the top. No pharmacy, whether it is online or brick and mortar, should be making unsolicited recommendations to owners about what medications their pets “should” be taking. Determining which drugs might help a pet involves far more than a list of a patient’s symptoms. Doctors (not computer algorithms) need detailed information about an individual’s overall health status, other medications and supplements that the patient is taking, the severity of symptoms, past drug reactions, and so much more before they can determine what medication has the best chance of being safe and effective.
If you are ever confronted by a situation like this, do not order the medications or supplements that are being recommended without first discussing all of your options with your veterinarian; and consider using a different pharmacy. Failing to do so could very well make your pet’s condition worse rather than better.
Dr. Jennifer Coates
Reference Online veterinary pharmacy automates drug recommendations. Edie Lau. October 2, 2013. The VIN News Service