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Vet Telemedicine: The New Normal?

by | April 2, 2020 | Pet Care

Vet holds a cat close to his face

Our world is continuously changing. When you think back to just a few years ago, we were being introduced to virtual reality and drones. Now, technology is playing a major role in how we live our daily lives, especially as we navigate these uncertain times. With the onset of COVID-19 hitting the world by storm, essential businesses are forced to adapt to a new normal.

As you may know, an example of a new normal is to refrain from gathering in public atmospheres, as well as adopting a 6-feet social distancing rule. These regulations set in motion by our government, help keep our families safe and healthy from this virus. But what about getting care for our pets? We discuss how veterinary medicine is changing and how caring for our beloved, furry friends is entering the digital world.

What is the difference between vet telemedicine and telehealth?

The two terms seem similar, but do they mean the same thing? To help out pet parents, we broke down the two terms for better understanding.

  • Vet Telehealth: a term that describes the ability to administer health education and care remotely.
  • Vet Telemedicine: a subcategory of telehealth that involves use of a tool, like video chat, to exchange medical information electronically to improve the pet’s health.

Brief history of telehealth

In the past, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) barred veterinarians from having the ability to diagnose and prescribe medications remotely. This was because vets must rely on the owners ability to describe their pet’s issues. If the pet owner is unable to give the vet the right information in order to accurately prescribe medications, this could pose a difficult element to diagnosing pets remotely.

However, the growing concerns of COVID-19, as well as the Stay at Home initiatives across the nation, have forced the FDA to reevaluate these restrictions.

As of March 24, 2020, the FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn stated, “We need to provide veterinarians with the latitude to expand the use of telemedicine in the care of animals, not only pets but also the animals that produce our food.” This is a major change within the pet health care system, that now allows people to seek out online vets who write prescriptions.

With every new system, there’s bound to be advantages and faults primarily. However, one of the key advantages to vet telemedicine is that vets are now able to provide pet parents with online pet health advice without leaving their home.

Why telemedicine is so crucial

Woman searching for telemedicine

COVID-19 has propelled us into approaching new technologies to help stay safe and healthy. Because taking your pet to see the vet is a necessity, vets are implementing digital tools that allow them to evaluate patients remotely. We spoke with Vaishali Joshi, DVM about her take on the importance of telemedicine.

“Telemedicine is one of the best solutions we have to keep our pets healthy while keeping all of the humans in the equation safe and protected…Many veterinary practices are working with limited daily staff to enable social distancing within the workplace. Telehealth not only provides an ideal health solution for your pet’s non-urgent health needs but also allows clinics to utilize their minimal staff effectively,” says Dr. Joshi.

She’s right, as physicians are transitioning their practices to provide telemedicine services, we are learning how to navigate this new world.

How do vets effectively utilize telemedicine?

Vets can utilize both phone and video technology to diagnose, evaluate, educate, and care for their pet patients. For example, if your dog, Fido’s eyes have been weeping and he seems under the weather for the past few days, you can reach your current vet with your online pet health questions. Depending on your vet’s individual setup, you might go online to schedule an online “e-visit” to discuss Fido’s symptoms.

We spoke to Dr. Joanna Krol, a veterinarian at multiple clinics in the Chicago suburbs.

“In response to the stay at home initiatives put into place by the state of Illinois, we are currently utilizing curbside service at all the practices I visit,” Dr. Krol says. “We are also starting to offer over the phone assistance such as evaluations and advice, in the form of telemedicine.”

She goes on to explain how she believes telemedicine will become more prominent in vet clinic practices across the nation.

“They’re a great opportunity for post-op checks so the patient can recover without having to physically go into the clinic,” says Dr. Krol. “I think they’ll be used more even after the stay at home initiatives are over.”

How to prepare for your “e-visit”?

Before you start, there’s a few things you should do before schedule an online visit.

  1. Check with your pet insurance company to make sure telemedicine “e-visits” will be covered. Prudent Pet Fact: Many kinds of “e-visits” are insured under our Accident + Illness plan
  2. Gather Fido’s medical information before you pick up the phone.
  3. Make a list of Fido’s symptoms and highlight anything that seems abnormal.
  4. Be prepared to describe Fido’s symptoms in great detail if you’re participating in a phone call.
  5. If you’re participating in a video chat with your veterinarian, make sure to use a computer or phone with a camera.
  6. Call your current vet and check to see if they are participating in telemedicine.
  7. Schedule a visit if Fido’s symptoms are worsening or not getting better.

Following the above guidelines can ensure that your pet gets the care they need. This can also expedite your “e-visit” and make it easier for your vet to accurately diagnose your pet’s condition.

With this new change, comes a few new rules the FDA has enacted to keep pet owners and their furry friends safe through this transition. A few of the new rules include:

  • All practitioners, including veterinarians as well as vet-techs, must comply with the laws and regulations set by the licensed state.
  • Vets are only allowed to participate in telemedicine with current patients they have seen in the clinic beforehand.
  • The only exception to the above online pet health advice may be given in an emergency care situation until a patient can reach a physical visit with the veterinarian.

Vet tech searching on her smartphone

What are the benefits of vet telemedicine?

We understand the idea of “e-visits” and video chatting with your vet may be new and scary for pet owners. When it comes to caring for your puppy pal or feline friend, it only makes sense that you would get them the best health care.

In addition, Dr. Krol states, “Telemedicine not only helps the pet owner, but our team members as well. We want to keep them safe and healthy by enacting these new technologies that allow us to attend to the pet’s care remotely.”

Here are a few advantages to vet telemedicine to put your worries at ease:

  • Saves veterinarians time by eliminating the unnecessary operations that come with a typical visit.
  • Improves their efficiency to see more pets, for a longer time.
  • Able to see the pet the same day, versus having to work around scheduling issues.
  • Pet owners can easily check in from the comfort of their own home when it comes to follow-ups instead of trekking into the office.
  • Allows older pet owners to take care of their pets when traveling to an office becomes difficult.
  • Alleviates the stress that comes with going to the vet for your pet.
  • Able to assist immediately with emergency incidents as pet owners are traveling to a veterinary emergency room or waiting for home assistance.
  • Prevents physician burnout and alleviates stress.

Another benefit Dr. Krol specifically highlighted was that vets and other team members can now be paid appropriately for their time.

“I, as well as many of my team members, already take multiple phone calls a day assisting questions and advice. Telemedicine ensures that those team members are being compensated for their time,” explains Dr. Krol. However, she also wanted to highlight that telemedicine appointments can now be offered at a lower rate than physical, in-person visits as well.

Dr. Krol explains, “If people just have a quick health question about their pets or a follow-up, telemedicine appointments can be offered much cheaper reducing financial strain.”

Dr. Krol states that, “There are more advantages to telemedicine than there are hurdles. Many practices, including the ones I am a part of, have been thinking about utilizing telemedicine appointments for years.” She adds, “Telemedicine just needed a push and a tactical reason to get the ball rolling.”

Woman talking on the phone with Beagle

What are the disadvantages of vet telemedicine?

Of course, with all new systems associated with technology, there are bound to be some disadvantages in the infancy. These may include:

  • Difficulty diagnosing due to poor webcam quality or cell phone reception.
  • Difficulty with the pet owner’s description of symptoms
  • Unable to physically feel the pet’s organs when diagnosing.
  • Still must administer all tests, including x-rays and ultrasound inside the office.

In addition, Dr. Krol shares, “I think one of the biggest hurdles we will have to overcome is the regulations that come with patient relationships. If the Stay at Home initiative gets more strict, vets could experience difficulties seeing new patients for a telemedicine e-visit.”

Many of these issues are being addressed by both veterinarians and the FDA in hopes they can smooth out the major concerns to deliver proper care. However, new initiatives may need to be enacted in order to prepare for new patients having the ability to see a doctor remotely for the first time.

What other options do I have?

If you’re looking for another option when it comes to taking care of your pet during the COVID-19 pandemic, many vets are offering “curbside service”. Dr. Krol says along with wearing protective gear, her team members are also providing their own, sanitized leashes to use during curbside service to minimize contact with contaminated items.

If you’re wondering how curbside service at the vet works, Dr. Krol explains, “Basically the client should phone the vet’s office at the time of arrival. Then, the doctor will discuss the details of the visit and determine next steps. If the pet needs to be examined, the vet-tech or nurse comes out to your car wearing protective gear and will assist with anything from sick visits or vaccines, to emergency appointments.”

These curbside appointments are a great option if you need to come into the vet, but are concerned for your health and safety. Dr. Krol informed us about a few things to prepare for and be aware of before you come in for your curbside service visit:

  • Make sure your pet’s collar is snug and not loose to prevent issues.
  • Leave other family members and pets at home.
  • Bring a secure carrier for your pet if needed.
  • Have your credit card information ready for “no contact” payment.
  • Be prepared with concise questions and concerns.

Dr. Krol shared that doing these five, simple things benefits the vet, staff, pet owner, and pet in the long run by making the curbside visit efficient and safe.

Should I choose to go ahead with an “e-visit”?

Dog gets sun light in car

The bottom line is yes. If your veterinarian offers telemedicine options, you should take advantage of this if your pet is in need of a quick check-up or evaluation. If you have pet health questions or are in need of advice, these are also great avenues to get your concerns addressed quickly.

“Both telemedicine and curbside service are excellent options when it comes to keeping you and your pet safe,” states Dr. Krol. “Don’t delay coming in if your pet is sick or in distress.”

Dr. Krol expressed she feels relieved to have these protocols in place to help owners feel confident about getting the care their pets need.

Not sure if your pet needs a physical or “e-visit”? A telehealth consultation with your vet may be the best choice, especially if you don’t want to waste time and energy going into the office.

Dr. Joshi explains, “Telehealth is a great way to screen whether a pet’s condition is urgent or not. Sometimes it’s not as obvious, so a telehealth consult is a safe and convenient way to determine whether you really need to bring your pet in to be physically examined.”

If you are worried that your pet pal needs more attention than just a phone or video chat, ask your vet if they have other options such as curbside assistance that comply with social distancing regulations in your state.

Does Pet Insurance Cover Vet Telemedicine Visits?

Dogs wearing medical costumes in line

In many cases, the answer is: Yes! It’s important to check your individual plan to see if an “e-visit” will be covered before scheduling.

At Prudent Pet, we want to ensure pet owners enroll in a policy that fits the individual needs of the owner and pet. We offer flexible, inclusive plans that cover everything from accidents and illnesses, to mental health, or routine exams. Make sure to check out our website to pick the plan that’s right for your pet’s age and breed.

Ready to take control of your furry friend’s health care today? Click the button below to learn more and get a FREE quote.

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Jenna Brashear

As one of the most enthusiastic dog lovers in the Chicagoland suburbs, Jenna spends her free-time snuggling and exploring the wilderness (many dog parks and forest preserves) with her best friend, Rudy. Rudy is an adopted Tibetan Terrier mix who enjoys lounging around the house, begging for table scraps, and receiving his daily butt rub. With his black and white coat, curly tail and smelly toots, Rudy is often referred to as our little skunk. Rudy’s favorite past-time is barking at the waves created by our paddle boat and chasing the pesky rabbits out of his yard. We are enamored with him and can’t believe how lucky we are to call Rudy our furbaby.