Telemedicine key to advancing care

Lexi Abramson - MoVET
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Virtual consultations allow diagnosis without exposing clients to a potentially stressful environment

As the market for veterinary telehealth, which includes telemedicine, expands, experts predict the valuation will reach $510 million by 2030, a significant increase considering the 2021 valuation stands at $118 million. Not only the market, but consumers also support the idea of increased access to telemedicine, especially since generation Z and millennials already demonstrate an affinity for technology-first solutions.

In fact, millennials are 39 percent more likely to own a dog or cat in the future than the previous baby boomer generation, and a similar proportion (40 percent) believe telemedicine is an “extremely important or very important option.”

Since the pandemic, veterinary care has needed to adapt to deliver care, and telemedicine has become a viable and popular option. In 2020, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an updated guidance for telemedicine practice and suspended certain rules restricting the distribution of medications in what is referred to as the veterinary client-patient relationship (VCPR). With this, the capabilities of telemedicine have expanded significantly, allowing veterinary care a new frontier with greater access to patients and clinicians.

Telemedicine improving care

For veterinarians, telemedicine can be an extremely useful tool to help leverage our diagnostics in mild-case scenarios. In our practice, we use it for various situations, from behavioral concerns and diet discussions to post-operative follow-up appointments and monitoring chronic cases, such as diabetes or kidney failure. Other uses include mild vomiting and diarrhea cases, skin concerns, and recheck appointments. Of course, for more serious cases, in-person follow-up examinations are highly encouraged.

The advantage for consumers also benefits veterinarians. By decreasing barriers to accessing professional care, telemedicine improves owner compliance by increasing their commitment to preventative care, thereby preventing critical health issues from developing in the future. In addition, considering the increased demand that exists for veterinary care today, telemedicine improves efficiency in the veterinary industry overall.

Virtual consultations also tend to be much more relaxed for the patient. Pets can have adverse reactions to visiting the veterinarian’s office, as they may dislike riding in the car or being in a crate, and may have negative associations with the clinic, as some humans do with the doctor’s office. This increase in anxiety can often negatively affect the animal’s behavior making it a more difficult examination for the office staff.

Telemedicine has the advantage in this case of examining the animal in its own environment–without increased stressors. In this situation, virtual appointments have a great advantage to monitor the animal, without inducing any behavioral changes that may affect the diagnosis. For example, are the animal’s ears pinned back because it is scared, or because it is feeling unwell? Is the patient hunched over from stomach pain, or because it is nervous? Or is it walking across the owner’s keyboard and craving the owner’s attention? These are all signs we look for when we are doing a virtual consultation with a concerned owner that help us form a better picture of the problem.

Especially in cats, this behavioral change really affects our ability to make a proper diagnosis. In our practice, we have come to rely on telemedicine to provide the client with a stress-free environment. For example, we have a client with a diabetic cat; when it physically enters the practice, its glucose values artificially skyrocket. Being able to monitor glucose levels at home gives veterinarians a more reliable value, but taking it one step further by incorporating a continuous glucose monitoring device into our protocol is a game changer for veterinarians and diabetic patients. Such a device allows veterinarians to digitally assess a diabetic patient’s glucose without even laying a finger on them, giving us a real-time reading of a pet’s glucose levels for 14 days.

Of course, for situations where veterinarians need to have hands-on experience to diagnose the issue, in-person appointments are still necessary. However, telemedicine consultations serve as great time-sensitive mediums, provide an additional opportunity to access clients and their pets, and can serve as an important triage tool in our industry.

Practice management software

A significant challenge to telemedicine services can be software used by veterinary clinics. Many practice management software (PMS) platforms are adapting to integrate telemedicine capabilities, but current software in the veterinary industry is still significantly outdated, and many clinics are still hesitant to update their software systems.

Veterinary clinics may shy away from software updates due to disruptions to the practice from onboarding and training, as well as the cost of the software, and fear of change.

Although most would agree digital solutions, such as telemedicine, can save time and improve customer service levels, many are hesitant to make the change for the previously cited reasons. They are also concerned digital solutions may hinder the connection made between client and veterinarian, as they fear telemedicine would not be as conducive to relationship building as face-to-face, in-person encounters.

However, arguments could be made about technology enhancing the client-veterinarian relationship, such as PMS increasing client satisfaction and allowing the clinic to be more disposable to the client. It also allows for the personalization of client records, keeping detailed notes about the client, their preferences, payment history, and immunization history, all in one succinct platform.

For example, incorporating PMS with telemedicine allows us to provide improved care in a timely manner. Through the PMS, we can keep detailed records of the client and their environment. In one situation, when a dog came down with kennel cough, we were quickly able to see the client had other dogs in the home and link to those additional medical records–preventing the spread and providing the necessary medication.

One of the major ways PMS can facilitate veterinary workflows is through improved client communication and a decrease in operational tasks. Automated correspondence is an excellent communication tool and ensures the client is aware of appointments, reminders, and deadlines. The digitization of records allows for improved data sharing, fewer redundancies in record keeping, and increases the security of data. PMS can streamline veterinary workflows by increasing scheduling efficiency, decreasing administrative workload and providing clients greater flexibility.

These technological advances and efficiencies can be integrated into the veterinary clinic with PMS. Along with telemedicine, these integrations enable efficient communication, a decrease in operational workload, and can lead to increased client compliance and satisfaction.

As digital solutions such as telemedicine and PMS rise in popularity among consumers, it is essential that veterinary clinics understand the advantages of implementing these technologies in their practices. The veterinary industry should capitalize on this demand and understand that using these technologies in tandem is critical to advancing veterinary care.

Virtual consultations allow diagnosis without exposing clients to a stressful environment such as the clinic.

Virtual consultations allow diagnosis without exposing clients to a stressful environment such as the clinic.