Telehealth feels like a new phenomenon because it’s been thrust into the forefront of veterinary practice during COVID-19, but in actuality it has been going on as long as the telephone has existed. Have you ever called a pet parent for follow-up after a surgery? Spoken with a frantic owner when you were on call at 11pm to determine if they needed to come in for an emergency visit? Then you’ve utilized telehealth.
Telehealth is an umbrella term that encompasses several types of ‘virtual’ interactions. Telemedicine is what most of us are currently offering with video and voice calls with established patients instead of in-person exams. Teleadvice is what you can offer if you haven’t yet established a VCPR (veterinarian-client-patient relationship) and it’s limited in scope. Since you haven’t seen the animal in person, you can offer only general medical advice that isn’t specific to their particular ailment. “All pets should be seen for regular wellness exams”, and the like.
If you’ve only recently begun to incorporate telemedicine into your practice model, there are some helpful things to consider to make the experience as seamless as possible for your clients.
It may seem intuitive, especially during a pandemic, that telehealth options exist for veterinary clients. But in fact, according to one study in 2017 approximately one third of pet owners surveyed didn’t even know they had access to telemedicine with their veterinarian. Send out an e-blast or a postcard to your established clients and let them know that your clinic is still available to them, even if they can’t leave their homes.
Think about how you might charge for your virtual visits… you can offer a no-charge first visit as an introduction and then require an in-person follow-up for actual treatment. You can include telemedicine visits as part of your wellness package, at no additional cost or a discounted rate, or you can charge according to usage (for example, by the minute) and then credit the client for that cost if they wind up coming into your clinic.
Now if you’re a relief veterinarian, even in the best of times it can sometimes feel unnerving inserting yourself into an established relationship with an owner and their pet in the absence of their usual practitioner. During a pandemic, when owners are spending more time than ever with their pets and suddenly realizing how much they’ve missed when it comes to regular veterinary care, you might be finding yourself faced with an onslaught of frantic owners you’ve never met, that you have to reassure via video screen.
The most important thing to remember as a relief veterinarian when it comes to utilizing telehealth is that you must follow your state licensing guidelines. Every state has different requirements and regulations, and they are who you would answer to if there was ever a question of impropriety.
By its very nature, relief work doesn’t allow for a VCPR, which means relief vets are generally limited to teletriage (determining if the animal requires an in-person visit without dispensing a diagnosis) and teleadvice. While this may seem like a waste of your time at face value, it is in fact vital to not only the wellbeing of the animal, but to the client-hospital relationship as well. Once a client has completed a telehealth visit, they are 50% more likely to come for an in-person visit and will spend 20% more money. Like it or not, telehealth is becoming a staple of veterinary medicine. If you can increase owner compliance, improve the client-hospital bond, and get a sick pet on the path to treatment, it’s worth embracing the world of virtual veterinary practice!