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Vet Gazette

Oregon State University College of Veterinary Medicine eNewsletter

Evidence-Based Information Websites Help Veterinarians

November 17th, 2015

vet_computerThe National Institute of Health spends $30 billion each year on human health research. In contrast, funding for health-related research dedicated to companion animals is a fraction of 1% of that amount: approximately $16 million per year.

The American Veterinary Medical Association states: “Continued improvement in companion animal and equine health care requires research with specifically targeted deliverables for dogs, cats, and horses. At the current low level of investment, most advances in animal health care applications are derived as by-products of human clinical research.”

With little empirical data to support their work, how do veterinarians know they are providing the best treatment for the myriad of health issues they see in their practices? In a recent presentation at the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Connie White addressed that concern: “We rely on experience. We take our best guess. It can be very stressful.”

Dr. White practices veterinary medicine at the Fremont Animal Clinic in Portland. She is also working on a MS degree in epidemiology, and has a passionate interest in evidence-based medicine, or the lack thereof, in American veterinary medicine. “There is very little research providing evidence-based knowledge to primary care veterinarians,” she says. “And there is almost no information on the prevalence of disease, and on risk factors in dogs and cats.”

On a recent trip to England, Dr. White learned more about several university-sponsored projects that are tackling this problem with technology and collaboration. “The Brits are on this in a big way,” she says.

How do you gather data from thousands of busy practicing veterinarians? The Royal College of Veterinary Medicine (RCVM) has solved that problem by creating software that automatically uploads clinical information from existing computers at participating practices. The RCVM system then compiles, analyzes, and shares the results on a website called VetCompass.

The VetCompass database currently holds 11 million cases from 450 different veterinary practices. Already, that data has been used to complete studies on a wide variety of health issues. Examples:

  • The effectiveness of antimicrobials for the treatment of canine pyoderma.
  • The prevalence of degenerative mitral valve disease in dogs, the survival characteristics of affected animals and the prognostic value of clinical measurements and biomarker blood tests.

“One study revealed that seven percent of cats over the age of nine were hyperthyroid,” says Dr. White. “I found that very interesting.”

There are several other British websites that provide veterinarians with evidence-based information. The British Small Animal Veterinary Association, in partnership with the University of Liverpool, has created a system called SavsNet that monitors disease in companion animals using data from diagnostic laboratories, as well as from private practices. The University of Nottingham created VetsRev, a freely accessible online database of citations for systematic reviews of relevance to veterinary medicine. It includes BestBETs for Vets an easy search function that can answer very common and specific clinical questions.

There are no publicly-available databases of this kind in the U.S. Dr. White is hoping to change that by spreading the word and inspiring action. “Veterinarians work so hard,” she says. “They are very busy people, so we need clever ways to get evidence to them.” She says none of the British projects were ‘hugely expensive’, and hopes U.S. universities will take up the cause.

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