The field of veterinary medicine is ever-changing, with new ideas, technologies and treatment methods being developed on the regular. One relatively recent concept that’s gaining in popularity is veterinary telemedicine. That is, treating patients virtually, usually via live video conference.
If this is something that’s piqued your interest and you’d like to learn a little more about it, we’ve rounded up a few of the main benefits this option can have for your practice as well as answers to some of the most commonly asked questions that may help you decide if it’s right for your practice. Let's explore.
What is Telemedicine?
Veterinary telemedicine, also known as veterinary telehealth, is the remote diagnosis and treatment of animals by means of telecommunications technology. This can include live video conferencing, which allows for real-time interaction between veterinarian and pet owner, or it may simply be exchanging information via email or text message.
How does Vet Telemedicine Work?
The most common way that telemedicine is used in veterinary medicine is through live video conferencing, using a webcam, smartphone camera or other device. This type of consultation typically lasts around 10-15 minutes and can be done from anywhere with an internet connection.
During the consultation, the veterinarian will ask questions about the animal’s symptoms and medical history. They will then discuss their findings and recommend a course of treatment. Unlike an in-person visit to the veterinarian, a physical examination of the pet will not be possible, of course, but in many cases, it may not be necessary.
During the virtual vet visit, the pet parents may be asked questions such as:
What are the animal’s symptoms?
When did they start?
Has there been a change in appetite or water intake?
Are they urinating and defecating normally?
Have you noticed any changes in energy level or behavior?
Any other pertinent information about the pet’s medical history
In some cases, the veterinarian may also prescribe medication, which can be delivered to the pet owner’s home or picked up at the veterinary hospital or clinic, or from another local pharmacy.
What issues can Telemedicine Address?
Telemedicine can be used to address a wide range of medical issues in animals, from skin conditions and allergies to behavioral problems. In general, telemedicine is most effective for cases that don’t require a physical examination or diagnostic tests, such as X-rays or bloodwork.
However, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, if an animal has had a physical exam within the last six months and the veterinarian is familiar with their medical history, it’s more likely that a telemedicine consultation will be sufficient.
Additionally, if an animal is having a reaction to a new medication, the veterinarian may be able to assess the situation and make recommendations without needing to see the animal in person.
In many cases, it can be an effective first step in diagnosing and treating a problem, and can help to decide if an animal needs to be seen in-person by a veterinarian.
Telemedicine can be used as a follow-up to an in-person visit, allowing the veterinarian to check on the animal’s progress and make any necessary adjustments to the treatment plan. These video chats can be both enjoyable and reassuring for both the veterinarian and the clients.
What is Telehealth?
Telehealth is a broad term that can be used to describe any type of healthcare that’s delivered remotely, using technology. This can include everything from live video conferencing to simply exchanging information via email or text message.
Telehealth is sometimes used interchangeably with telemedicine, but there is a distinction between the two. Telemedicine refers specifically to the diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions, while telehealth can be used for a wider range of healthcare services, such as disease prevention and health education.
How is Veterinary Telehealth Being Used?
Some veterinarians are using telehealth to provide convenient, after-hours care for their clients. For example, a pet owner may be able to consult with a veterinarian after work hours, on weekends or on holidays.
In some cases, telehealth may also be used to provide second opinions or consult with veterinary specialists who are located outside of the area. New technologies allow for the convenient sharing of information, such as medical records, X-rays and lab results, making this an attractive option.
If a pet owner is considering a new treatment for their animal that’s not available in their area, they may be able to consult with a specialist via telehealth to get more information and make an informed decision.
Benefits of Veterinary Telemedicine
There are quite a few upsides to offering telemedicine for the veterinarian, the clients and the pets as well as some important considerations.
First, from a business standpoint, the hospital or clinic can increase revenue by serving clients who might not otherwise bring their pets in for care. That’s extra money in your pocket.
Additionally, telemedicine can help to reduce the spread of disease, as there’s no need for your animal to be in close contact with other animals in a waiting room.
Save time and money
If you’re a pet owner, you may not have to take time off work or make special arrangements for transportation in order to take your animal to the vet. Not to mention the time it can take to get your pet in and out of the vehicle or pet carrier. And if you live in a rural area, you may not have to travel long distances to find a qualified veterinarian.
Telemedicine can also help to reduce the cost of emergency care, as it may be possible to consult with a veterinarian before deciding whether or not to bring your animal to the emergency hospital.
One of the main benefits of telemedicine is that it’s convenient for both parties. This is also a benefit for veterinarians, as they can conduct consultations from their homes or offices without having to see patients in person.
Veterinary telemedicine can also help to make the appointment scheduling process more efficient. Rather than having to schedule multiple appointments for different pets in the same household, pet owners can consult with the veterinarian about all of their animals at once.
Improved Access to Veterinary Care
Another big benefit of telemedicine for pets is that it can improve access to veterinary care, especially in rural or underserved areas. If you live in a rural area, you may not have easy access to a veterinarian. This can make it difficult to get the care your pet needs in a timely manner. Veterinary telemedicine can help solve this problem by connecting you with a veterinarian no matter where you live.
Similarly, telemedicine can also be used to provide veterinary care to shelters or rescues that may not have the resources to bring animals in for regular check-ups. This can help more animals get the care they need and ultimately find forever homes.
And for those cat owners who simply cannot get their cat in a carrier, the option to do a video call can be a godsend. No more hours spent trying to corral a terrified kitty into a small space! The Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study revealed that 52% of cats do not receive regular veterinary care. With the option for online vet appointments, this percentage can be greatly improved.
From a business standpoint, offering telemedicine for pets can be a great way to increase revenue. Veterinary telehealth services can help you serve pet owners who might not otherwise bring their pets in for care. It can also provide an additional service offering to differentiate your practice from competition, attract new clients and keep existing clients coming back.
And since telemedicine can be done from anywhere, you’re not limited by your geographical location. This means that you can reach a wider audience and serve more clients, which can lead to increased revenue for your business.
This is especially beneficial if you own a mobile practice or make house calls, as you can add on additional services that can be provided remotely.
Improved Emergency Care
Telemedicine can be a lifesaver in emergency situations when every minute counts. If your pet is sick or injured and you can’t get to the veterinarian right away, being able to connect with them via video chat can make all the difference.
During an emergency, your veterinarian can provide you with instructions on how to care for your pet and stabilize them until you can get to the hospital. The doctor can also let you know if your pet needs to be seen immediately or if they can wait for an appointment.
Finally, by enabling the client to connect remotely with their veterinary provider, you’ll be able to nurture that sense of trust and loyalty, which will go a long way toward keeping pet parents happy and your client retention numbers high.
Engage veterinary teams
There are many opportunities for using telemedicine to engage veterinary teams in areas outside of their normal workflow. Veterinary technicians, for example, can use telemedicine to collect the pet’s medical history and triage symptoms prior to consulting with the licensed veterinarian. This frees up the veterinarian’s time so that they can focus on more complex cases.
It also enables the veterinary technician to collect revenue for their services and treat more animals, while providing a valuable service to the client.
Veterinary Telemedicine FAQs
Are there any legal restrictions or regulatory requirements to offering telemedicine services?
Veterinarians are generally allowed to offer telemedicine services as long as they have already established a Veterinarian Client Patient Relationship (VCPR). It’s critical to point out, however, that each state’s veterinary practice act guidelines and regulations vary. If you’re considering telemedicine as a service for your clients, your best bet is to check with your state licensing board first before proceeding.
What makes telemedicine different from medicine in general?
While the standard of care is the same, there are certainly a few limitations with medicine that’s delivered virtually, such as the inability to physically touch the patient. Provided you use a video connection, however, the veterinarian should still be able to see and therefore visually examine the patient.
What equipment is needed for telemedicine?
Virtual consultations are made much easier thanks to today’s widespread use of digital technology. For instance, most smartphones, tablets and laptops have audio/visual capabilities built right in, making it simple and seamless to connect with clients remotely.
What types of services are commonly offered via telemedicine?
As long as you have a VCPR in place and you’re comfortable assessing the patient virtually, a wide variety of services can be performed via telemedicine. These may include, but are not necessarily limited to: general wellness checks, post-surgical follow-ups, after-hours care, and hospice. Obviously, you should use your best judgment and handle things on a case-by-case basis.
Are veterinarians allowed to charge for remote services?
Provided there is an established VCPR, you can assess a fee for virtual services. How much you charge for this type of service is up to you, but the AVMA has created some pricing models you may find useful (membership is required).
How do I get compensated for a virtual vet visit?
Again, as long as you’ve verified that you can legally offer telemedicine, how you choose to collect your fee is up to you. First, check with your credit card processor for options. Many vets use a third-party payment app, such as Venmo or PayPal, but you should choose whatever you and your clients feel most comfortable with.
What types of telemedicine services can be provided in the absence of an established VCPR?
Without a VCPR, you are treading on thin ice and should be very careful not to engage in any activity that could be perceived as diagnosing or treating patients’ conditions. General advice may be acceptable, but again, this is dangerous territory and you should therefore proceed with caution. Checking with your state licensing board is strongly advised.
Do virtual veterinarians need additional insurance coverage?
Because veterinarians are expected to provide the same standard of care to all patients, regardless of whether that care is delivered in-person or virtually, additional liability insurance is typically not required. That being said, it would be wise to check with your insurance carrier first to make sure you are adequately covered before proceeding.
For forward-thinking vet clinics, telemedicine could potentially be a game-changer. If this is something you may be interested in, be sure to do your homework first to makes sure you will remain in compliance with all state and federal laws and regulations. Once you’ve got the green light, you can start reaping the many benefits of this service for your practice.
Veterinary telemedicine is a great way to provide care for your patients beyond the traditional in-person visit. There are many benefits to virtual vet visits and remote services, including increased convenience for you and your clients, greater flexibility in scheduling, and the ability to serve a wider geographic area. As long as you have a valid VCPR and stay within the bounds of the law, you can start offering telemedicine services in your practice today.
Still wondering if providing telemedicine services is right for your hospital or clinic? Contact us and join the conversation with our community of like-minded professionals! Together we will navigate the path forward.