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  • Rosie

COVID, Telemedicine, and You: How the Pandemic has Changed Veterinary Medicine

At the beginning of the pandemic, there was a lot of media buzz around the supposed advantages dogs would have from having their humans at home (More walks!), but it’s only now that we’re starting to acknowledge how much our pets helped get us through the time spent at home. And after long stretches in quarantine, pet owners feel more connected to their pets than ever. One survey showed that 44% of women would prefer quarantining with a pet over a significant other, and a whopping 84% say all that time at home has given rise to more concerns about their pet’s health.

This increase in pet-owner bonding coincided with a major shift toward veterinary telemedicine. Although the AVMA suggests veterinarians offer telemedicine services only to existing patients, some states suspended those rules during the pandemic. That pushed telemedicine forward in many states, and changed the landscape of veterinary care.

With telemedicine advances, it has become easier than ever for pet owners to provide their furry companions with state-of-the-art care. Pets and vets alike are finding out that they would rather not go back to business as usual. Customers who have started using telemedicine don’t want to return to crowded waiting rooms.

And since so many of these changes are here to stay, they won’t have to.

Record Keeping and a Boost in Efficiency

Clients and patients might not notice, but telemedicine has worked some behind-the-scenes magic with far-reaching consequences for how vet clinics operate. Billing and scheduling are major administrative hassles that eat up a ton of time at the end of the day. Telemedicine platforms offer a neat and tidy way to make sure patients and vets are on the same page, and have access to the same information.

After each appointment, a recording of the appointment gets stored on the platform, making it easier to access the patient’s history during future appointments. This also makes it possible for clients to review the vet’s exact instructions. Best of all for vets — information about each pet gets automatically sent to the Patient Information Management System (PIMS).

There is also a legal angle to this record keeping: In the unusual case of a veterinary malpractice suit, vets can have everything they did for an animal carefully catalogued.

Easy Follow-Up and Prescriptions

Is the medication working? Has that rash cleared up? Did that limp go away?

Pets can swallow things, have allergic reactions, and start walking strangely, seemingly out of nowhere. But are all of these worth a visit to the vet’s office? Maybe, maybe not.

As an example, a major chunk of online vet visits revolve around pet allergies, and with telemedicine, veterinarians can check in with owners and order their refills without having to visit the office. COVID-19 concerns aside, that’s a huge boost in convenience for busy pet owners trying to balance their pet’s needs with their freshly busy calendars.

And of course, there’s still that 70% of video consultations that end with a trip to the office for an in-person examination. These in person visits are often a breeze, considering all the history and discussion are already done. The 30% of visits completely managed virtually, reduce waiting times for in-office clients and keep waiting rooms from getting too crowded.

Emergency Services

There is no 911 for pets, but at some point every pet owner has needed to speak to a vet, right away. Googling in these cases is especially harrowing — pets only exhibit so many symptoms, and lots of illnesses have similar symptoms. Having emergency telemedicine available will make a big difference for many pet owners, especially those located in rural areas.

Although currently regulations require that clinics only use telemedicine with existing patients, those same limitations aren’t in place for emergencies.

The Bottom Line

We have no problem treating dogs and cats like the favorite members of the family. So why do so many veterinarians feel like they’re representing the least respected medical profession?

Veterinarians have seen how profitable video consultations can be. Many vets struggle to set healthy boundaries for clients — it’s not unusual for vets to receive an unsolicited message via their private Facebook profiles from clients looking for a quick answer to a question. Telemedicine offers a pleasant, neutral way to deflect those types of after-hours consultations. Veterinarians are valuable experts, and deserve to be treated as such.

Telemedicine helped pets and their owners get through a crisis. But it has proven to be much more than a band aid, and has helped vets make a giant leap in the standard of care that they can provide, no matter what the news brings next.

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