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As telehealth has increased in popularity, veterinarians also have explored the option of treating their patients remotely, adhering to the vet telemedicine approach. Services covered by vet telemedicine, also known as televeterinary, let pet owners deal with non-emergency medical problems from the comfort of their homes. And while virtual veterinary services are becoming more prevalent, what are the reasons for their growth and what does it mean for vet practices? Let’s find out.
Below, you will find the latest statistics and information about the current state of televeterinary and where it is healing. You will also learn from our expert advice on how to address the current challenges that virtual vet solutions are facing.
What is Televeterinary?
Veterinary telemedicine services allow pet parents to send text messages, photos, and videos to practitioners to determine if the pet needs medical attention and receive real-time medical care.
A televet can consult by call, text, or video. A virtual vet can give medical advice for allergy relief, nutrition, controlling parasites, and other issues. Also, the vet can recommend products to alleviate the pet’s symptoms and teach the pet owner how to take care of the furry friend.
For these scenarios, telehealth tools provide sufficient information to assist pet owners without the necessity of a hands-on physical examination. If the problem is more serious, the vet can recommend an office visit and help with finding the nearest emergency clinic.
The Value of Televetirinary
The Banfield Pet Hospital conducted a study on pet virtual care and found that about 40% of dog owners prefer to consult online first. Why? Here are some significant findings and data to take into account.
Considering this data, we can conclude that the emergence of telemedicine services in the vet sector makes a difference to pet parents, practitioners, and, no doubt, patients themselves. It allows getting professional services in the shortest time and prevents various mistakes from being done by people anxious about their pet’s health.
The Current State of Televeterinary
Unfortunately, telehealth laws are pretty inflexible, but they are starting to change. Each country has its own veterinary medical council, and most of these councils have active discussions about making the rules regarding telemedicine more flexible.
For example, the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (San Francisco SPCA) is suing a state law that prohibits veterinarians from advising pet owners on the health of their pets if the owners are not their clients. The SPCA believes that such a rule harms the health and welfare of pets. The lawsuit also alleges that the law violates the First Amendment rights of the veterinarian and pet owner. The main requirement of the lawsuit filed by animal rights activists is that veterinarians be allowed to practice telemedicine based on their judgment and training.
Another example is a proposed amendment to the Oregon Veterinary Practice Act that could change how animal health professionals work in the state. A new set of standards developed by government regulators will allow veterinarians to treat pets through online consultations without pre-screening a patient in person.
And the majority of such cases were dictated by the COVID-19 pandemic that resulted in people being isolated and deprived of their casual lifestyle.
How Did the COVID-19 Outbreak Impact the Rise of Televeterinary?
To help animal health professionals provide needed care for pets during the COVID-19 pandemic, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has temporarily waived some federal telemedicine requirements. In particular, the application of some requirements concerning the relationship "veterinarian - client - patient" was suspended, which was supposed to allow veterinary specialists to use telemedicine more often and more effectively during the pandemic. It was also temporarily allowed to prescribe "off-label" medications and therapeutic diets without directly examining the patient, limiting human-to-human interactions and the potential spread of COVID-19. So what were the results of such actions?
A study conducted by online veterinary service Joii found that a remote consultation was sufficient to resolve clients' health issues, and there was no need for follow-up procedures. These results were obtained based on the analysis of 38,449 remote veterinary consultations within the application. Other results were also promising for further development of televeterinary.
The truth is that the same study by Banfield Pet Hospital found that in 80% of cases when people think there's an urgent problem with pet health, it's actually not a big deal. It also showed that while the average pet owner visits the veterinarian only 1.6 times a year, people using televeterinary services do so once a month, allowing any abnormal health condition to be detected early.
In addition, a YouGov survey showed that 74% of cat and dog owners consider such a service as an addition to the services provided by veterinary clinics indoors. Customers are more likely to use an app than visit a veterinarian if it is cheaper and faster and the service is available 24/7.
Examples of the Televet Apps
To see the reason for the televeterinary rise and understand how companies address the existing challenges, such as those dictated by the law in some regions, we provide you with information on successful cases of televet app launches.
In 2020, online pet retailer Chewy started to provide veterinary consultations to customers. The company has previously conducted test runs of its digital veterinary platform in Florida and Massachusetts. A free service called Connect With a Vet is now available to customers across the USA.
To carry out the project, Chewy entered into agreements with veterinarians who have been affected by the pandemic or are interested in working on a flexible schedule.
The platform focuses on the provision of consulting services. It allows pet owners to communicate directly with the veterinarian and get advice and answers to some of the most frequently asked questions and referrals to local specialists or an emergency clinic. However, Connect With a Vet does not diagnose, treat, or prescribe medications.
In surveys conducted during the pilot launch of the platform, more than 80% of users rated the service 10 out of 10.
In 2019, one of the largest UK chains of veterinary clinics, the Independent Vetcare, has launched its own telemedicine service called Online Vets. Working on the principle of "no solution - no pay," the service has become unique to the country.
The head of the service, Douglas Veitch, explained that a doctor could prescribe a specific treatment during a consultation in humane telemedicine. At the same time, veterinarians cannot do this by the law. As a result, the client often pays twice: for online consultation and then for a regular appointment.
While the Online Vets service is built on the principle of consultation and, if necessary, issues a referral to one of more than 800 clinics in the country, the cases of the online consultation are not included in the bill. Thus, the company offers a flexible consultation service to attract a significant number of customers.
Robert Dawson, veterinarian and co-founder of Vet-AI, said that the company was technologically well-equipped from the start, which allowed it to optimize the collection of data on anamnesis and symptoms and conduct primary differential diagnosis, as well as record the results of each consultation. As a result, VET AI was able to assemble an extensive database that helps understand what role telemedicine can play in the future of the veterinary profession.
An in-house survey conducted across the firm's three social media platforms showed that pet owners avoid vets because of price. So it became evident to the fundraisers that video consultations and appointments from experienced veterinarians could provide pet owners with a safe, high-quality alternative to visiting a veterinary clinic, opening up access to previously inaccessible services.
The Bottom Line
Currently, telemedicine can be seen as an addition but not an alternative to the services provided by a traditional veterinary clinic. But even today, many companies are trying to objectively evaluate the possibilities of remote consultation and collect an evidence base to help us understand the limits of the vet telemedicine effectiveness.
One of the most common concerns about televeterinary medicine is that in the clinic, clients pay for the work of a qualified specialist, who has all the necessary equipment and specialized premises for medical manipulations. At the same time, online services cannot collect a qualitative history of the disease and provide the conditions required for a complete examination of the patient and do not have access to the case histories.
But there’s always a way to address such concerns. Alexander Kudryavtsev, Emerline’s specialist involved in the vet telemedicine project development for a client, says:
A cloud storage system that gives doctors full access to electronic medical records is a perfect solution to this issue. Also, if the company requests data on each patient and updates the medical history during the treatment, the effectiveness of online consultations increases. Meanwhile, 24/7 access allows vets to receive valuable information in emergencies.
Anyways, the veterinary profession should adapt to the changing needs of its clients because pet owners are looking for more affordable options in the current environment. And because restrictive measures are gradually softened, various forms of restrictions will soon disappear. So, combined with the post-COVID economic crisis, the demand for affordable yet skilled online veterinary care will increase, and vet clinics must prepare for this change.
Being a pet-friendly company, Emerline puts its efforts into creating solutions that make a difference in the experience of being a pet parent. We even have our very own Gold Stevie Award winner solution, GoDog - a mobile app designed to help owners train their furry friends and take care of their health with an activity calculator and health tracking tool. Our teams put their heart into creating this product, and we are proud to know that professionals and god owners find it helpful. So if you have any ideas on developing your own solution, we are always happy to leverage our experience in creating beautiful, user-friendly, and innovation-rich applications. Feel free to contact us at any time!