Nothing But Net: Equine Health Information Online
- Sep 13, 2001
With the explosion of web sites (more than 10 million, and increasing), veterinary information has proliferated. Hundreds of businesses, organizations, institutions, and individuals upload information related to equine health issues. A large percentage promote sales of products and services, and fewer communicate valuable, sound information related to better horse care.
Online resources can supply answers to questions. For the professional involved in scientific inquiry, a valid source can accelerate research. For the horse owner seeking advice, the information can supplement consultation with an equine practitioner.
Whichever category describes you, through your "wired" computer you can consult resources to increase your knowledge of a particular subject. You collect information, digest the relevant information, and apply what you learned to answer your questions. Using the web, you want first to find--then understand--information that addresses your needs. (Your veterinarian might say your horse has vesicular stomatitis and it won't kill him, recommend a treatment, then has to rush off to the next ranch. On the web, you can look for additional information that either your veterinarian has recommended, or that you find on your own. In addition, searching on the web could improve communication between you and your veterinarian. If you find an article that you think would be good to use as a reference, printing a copy of the article for your veterinarian could help him/her understand what you are reading at home.)
Typically, web sites function on the publication model. The publisher offers content, either freely, restricted by password access, or restricted to paying customers. Content published online shares a concern with other publication methods--to be of value to the intended reader, the information must be authoritative and credible. Like other medical online resources, veterinary sites themselves demand "vetting."
Currently, you can explore public sites, available to any web user, or access the contents of members-only libraries. Your approach depends on your searching style. You might prefer to "drill down" through proven resources, or zero in on exact terms by maximizing your use of search engines. In this listing of current resources, we're mentioning several of the most useful sites.
In previous reviews of online sources, this magazine described two excellent directories. Consider a directory as a bibliography, or a list of hypertext links to recommended web sites. Net Vet continues as an outstanding resource with its "Horses" category (netvet.wustl.edu/horses.htm). This directory continues to list many links in health care in its Health category.
In fact, consider Net Vet as a "one-stop shopping" guide. Its author, Ken Boschert, has even published a book on online resources: Mosby's Veterinary Guide to the Internet. A guide for professionals, the book and companion software reviews sites for their reference value.
The Virtual Veterinary Center has also thrived as a directory. Also known as Martindale's Health Services Guide, its site is a single long list of resources (www-sci.lib.uci.edu/HSG/Vet.html). At the top of the list are the four categories: Dictionaries and Glossaries, Literature and Patent Searches, Online Journals, and Veterinary Schools.
You also can find veterinary as a topic in general equine directories. The Haynet (www.haynet.net) includes Veterinary Resources with four categories: Alternative Therapies, Commercial Resources, General Vet Information, and Veterinarian Vet Clinics and Vet Hospitals. Each category lists links, with the date the link was added to the Haynet. This site, with more than 12,000 links, is owned and maintained by the parent company of The Horse.
Publishers of equine veterinary information follow the model of print publishers, aiming at one of two audience types: professional and consumer. Professional resources are linked with professional organizations. These sources tend to be completely or partially public, with "members only" access to certain areas.
The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) restricts a large percentage of its contents to members (www.aaep.org). Press releases are available in What's New, and an Owner Education section contains many articles. The New for 2000 section contains six articles.
A bit more open is the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA). Anyone can read its newsletter online (www.beva.org.uk). BEVA's The Best of Care category contains an excellent summary of equine health care. Professionals also can review a complete listing of all meetings and courses for the year.
Among the more specialized organizations, the Equine Nutrition and Physiology Society (www.enps.uiuc.edu) provides access to conference proceedings. You see a table of contents for that year's papers, and can order the complete proceedings. The site also includes an interactive Ask a Virtual Expert question-answer option.
Beyond associations, government agencies also distribute information online. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (www.aphis.usda.gov) has a useful site. Its Center for Animal Health Monitoring (www.aphis.usda.gov/vs/ceah/cahm/) lets you see reports in the equine category. There you can find results from the NAHMS Equine '98 study. New items are dated April 2000, including a report on EVA.
Veterinary schools also publish information about their research, curricula, and educational opportunities. For example, Colorado State University has its Equine Sciences newsletter online (www.colostate.edu/depts/equine). The College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences describes its activities and Equine Short Courses (www.cvmbs.colostate.edu).
A unique online magazine is DVM: The News Magazine of Veterinary Medicine (www.dvmnewsmagazine.com). Although this publication contains articles, its news coverage is its most useful aspect.
Audience-Specific: Horse Owners
If you seek advice for owners, you'll find a bewildering array of material. Some practitioners host sites where they publish articles. Question and answer columns address specific issues. You can post a question and receive answers from the informed professional, or (more likely) the opinionated horse owner.
Oklahoma State University has published valuable online material since the web was new. You can find 28 publications online, along with reports of research (www.ansi.okstate.edu/EXTEN/HORSES). The University of Kentucky offers 19 Fact Sheets in PDF format, available in an annotated list (www.uky.edu/Agriculture/AnimalSciences/Horse/Horse.html).
You can find short health care articles at the Equine Research Centre (www.erc.on.ca). This Canadian site includes distance learning courses, and it also lists equine research summaries from the Inventory of Canadian Agrifood Research.
The Bayer Equine Well Care Program is also linked from the AAEP site (www.yourhorseshealth.com). You can click Get-a-DVM to find an AAEP member veterinarian in your area. Helpful sections include Horse Owner Education, Horse Care Tips, and Vaccination Guide. In the Vaccination Guide, click a disease and see AAEP recommendations.
The Morris Animal Foundation includes a "Horse News" link on its site (www.morrisanimalfoundation.org). You can read articles related to studies of 1999 and 2000. At the home page, click to see a full list of all studies active in 2000. The Equine section lists Morris-funded studies in 11 categories.
Individual practices also publish useful information. One example is Northwest Equine Surgical and Medical Center (www.nwequine.com). The "Current Cases" category includes educational articles, such as Problems of the Neonatal Foal.
You'll also find good material in the Ask the Vet category of Sport Horse Medicine (www.sporthorsemedicine.com). Archives contain many answers to owners' questions, and you can post your question.
The Horse itself publishes The Horse Interactive (www.thehorse.com). You can search archived articles, access the Haynet, and follow many other links to some of the sites described here. There also are news items and articles put up every weekday to keep the content fresh.
Guiding The Search Engine
For rapid information collection, maximize your use of search engines. Smart searching can target the right answers to your questions. With a list of search results, you'll then sort through the possible sites. A search engine can find material across a range of sites, showing you the most authoritative official publications and the most intensely personal pages.
Here's an example, with one of the top search engines, Google (www.google.com). Type these words in the search box:
West Nile virus horse
On a recent trial, Google took less than a minute to display more than 2,100 matches to these four words. The first items, ranked in a Google-assigned order according to the instances of all four words, included the Center for Disease Control and other reputable sites. Each result includes a hyperlink to click, along with a short annotation from the site.
Here's one peculiarity of direct searching: You can locate a great information piece, but not see any attribution. If the hosting web site doesn't identify the author or affiliation of a page you found, you might wonder how to confirm the validity of the information.
Solve this oversight by looking at the address box on your web browser, near the top of your screen. You'll see the path of the article, and you can backtrack to the previous page in the site. (You "drilled down," and now you have to "drill up.")
As an example, if you search "Equine sarcoid," you might find the article, "Neoplasms and Neoplasm-like Conditions of the Skin." The content reads like a scientific article. The address includes "cvm.okstate," which implies the College of Veterinary Medicine at Oklahoma State University. Who's the author?
To back up to the previous page, click in the address, so it's highlighted. Click again so you see the insertion point in the words. Press the arrow key to move to the end of the address. Delete by backspacing the words up to the first slash, and press Enter. You've back up to display the previous page at the web site. In this case, you can see the page of the author, a professor at the university. If this tactic doesn't work, continue backing up through the hierarchical structure of the site.
Four online services operate as professional-only subscription services. Two are general networks, for any veterinarian, and two cater to equine veterinarians. All include research tools, such as literature searches and even full-text retrieval of articles from professional journals.
The Veterinary Information Network, or VIN, has been active since 1990 (www.vin.com). The first and largest network of its kind, it has 6,000 veterinary members. A crew of 85 consultants supply online assistance. Members can communicate through message boards, and using the Reference Center can search all databases VIN offers.
The Network of Animal Health web site, or NOAH, is affiliated with the American Veterinary Medical Association (www.avma.org). NOAH became available as a benefit to all AVMA members as of Aug. 1, 2000. This resource center has been operating online since 1994, but previously could be accessed only if members paid an extra fee. NOAH features forums, databases, handbooks, and some articles from the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Equine Veterinary Network is another members-only resource (www.equinevetnet.com). Members can read the Periodicals and Proceedings area, and participate in discussion forums. Affiliated with the International Association of Equine Professionals and the World Equine Veterinary Association, the site also features sports medicine articles.
The World Equine Health Network requires a paid membership (www.wehn.com). Part of Kentucky Equine Research Inc., this "one-stop headquarters" publishes the World Equine Veterinary Review, plus EquiNews for the lay reader.
With the plethora of online information, it’s not that hard to locate information to access. You quickly can end up with an information surplus. But how do you sort through the electronic clutter?
Smart searching pays off when you start with a strategy. Before you begin any research, determine what will be meaningful to you. Are you searching for symptoms, background on a specific drug, or treatment for a condition? Write down the answer you seek, starting with the format, "I want to know …" Fill in the blank with the words that relate to your quest. Write down as many terms as you can think of, both general and specific. If you want to know about the danger of your horse colicking during shipping, you might include colic, horse, transport.
Now that you know what you don’t know, plan your strategy for finding out. Without a plan, you can easily get off track in divergent paths, and spend hours browsing "cool stuff" instead of collecting what you needed.
Before a search, keep a notepad and pencil by your computer. Take notes on interesting sites you might encounter, but don’t have time to explore in that online session. Also, install Acrobat Reader software on your system so you can immediately view articles, newsletters, and reports available in the Portable Document Format (PDF).
Vetting The Content
When you seek factual information, apply detective skills to analyze how a list of results or a page on a web site answers your information needs. First, administer a quick test to sort the authoritative from the dubious. Even just the web address gives you a clue. Look for the three-letter domain name of edu (education), gov (government), or org (organization). Either of the first two indicates content free of the bias you see on many commercial (com) sites. An edu site is a university, so you’d expect a scholarly voice. A gov site can include regulations, and because it’s funded with public money, it supplies information to the public. An org site might not be as credible, as most organizations pursue agendas.
Scrutinize content’s validity by looking for authorship, "message," currency, and sponsorship. First, are you viewing a lay article or a scientific report? Who is the information provider, and is this person or organization reputable? Are you reading opinions, or valid scientific material? An "infomercial" site can communicate valuable information, apart from a subtle or obvious sales message.
Don’t accept a single source as the only authority. Check comparable sources, and compare information before you act upon what you read.
You also can collect information through chat rooms, newsgroups, and discussion lists. However, realize that most—if not all—of this "talk" falls into the realm of anecdotal information. Even if a source appears legitimate, suspend your belief until you can confirm the credentials. It’s easy for an online individual to misrepresent his or her qualifications.
About the Author
Award-winning writer Charlene Strickland lives in Bosque Farms, N.M. She has published 8 books and over 600 magazine articles, and is a member of the International Alliance of Equestrian Journalists.
POLL: University Equine Hospitals