Veterinary Telemedicine and COVID-19: A Veterinarian’s Perspective

By Dr. Steve Boyer, DVM

November 25, 2020

Telemedicine. This is one of the many words I think of when I hear or read about COVID-19.  Telemedicine is when a patient gets the care / help they need, but from a remote distance, when the patient and provider are not in the same physical location. In the veterinary profession, telemedicine has stood the test of time, being used initially through phone calls, then emails and text, and recently through video. As technology improves, so does our connection with our clientele and our patients. 

Generations X, Y, and Z are accustomed to these advancements in technology and have grown up with these changes.  Millennials and Gen Z have come to expect it and this trend will continue.  When it comes to visiting their veterinarian, a client’s trip to the clinic can often be time consuming and inconvenient. For the patient, it can be stressful. If the client has to leave their pets in clinic for an extended period of time, receiving text updates and photos from their vet can make a difficult situation more manageable.  It has become second nature to communicate through our smart phones, and successful clinics are adapting to this by embracing telemedicine.  As well, clients appreciate having more ways to connect with their veterinarian.

COVID-19 has been the impetus of change for many reasons, including the use of telemedicine. A trip to the clinic often involves close contact with several people, which is a concern amidst a pandemic, where social distancing is the new normal.  While often necessary, sharing an exam room with 1-2 veterinary personnel for 30+ minutes while wearing a mask, isn’t an ideal situation. Having a method for pet owners to connect with their veterinarian remotely, in a secure, private video chat, provides peace of mind, while also allowing veterinarians to monetize their professional expertise.

This pandemic has been coming in waves and has had an impact on clinics, with some having to close completely. Most clinics are adopting a curb-side approach, encouraging owners to stay in their vehicles and wait for a phone call from their vet to carry out the appointment while communicating remotely over the phone. Vets and pet owners then start to question, what can be managed through telemedicine? The answer is, more than you think. Some examples include behaviour, nutrition, training, mild GI issues, some skin conditions, some prescription refills, quality of life discussions, post adoption questions, and many more. Another common indication is for triage purposes, when clients don’t know if an in-clinic appointment is warranted.

Veterinarians are busy professionals and may feel they don’t have the time to introduce a new service.  However, COVID-19 isn’t going away any time soon. With telemedicine, vets can prioritize more urgent in-clinic appointments, seeing a large caseload through paid virtual consultations.  Setting up a telemedicine service may seem daunting, but it shouldn’t be. I think of it as a way to reduce some of the inefficient phone calls and to see non-urgent cases in a safe, socially distant manner. Telemedicine has stood the test of time, and as technology improves and we live amidst a pandemic, it’s use will only increase.

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