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6 reasons why veterinary telemedicine is poised to go off the hook
Telehealth services offer unlimited possibilities for your clinic. Here’s why you should give telemedicine a go if you haven’t already.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought many challenges to veterinary medicine. After months of stay-at-home orders, pet owners fear infection. Many veterinarians are offering curbside care, which has had some complications. We have seen an increase in telehealth in human medicine, and this may be the direction veterinary medicine is headed. Here are 6 reasons why.
1. Clients have experienced telemedicine themselves—and liked it.
In April 2020, telehealth increased 1000% from 2 weeks earlier, according to research from the medical and health sciences division at Oxford University. “There has been something like a 10-fold increase in virtual patient consultations in the last couple of weeks,” Ray Dorsey, MD, MBA, the director of the Center for Health + Technology at the University of Rochester Medical Center, told Lancet at the time. “It’s as big a transformation as any ever before in the history of US health care.”1 According to an Updox survey in May, 42% of 2000 individuals polled said that they had used telehealth services since the pandemic began.2
When surveyed, human patients and health care providers said they preferred virtual care to traditional in-office visits because:
- It is convenient.
- It strengthens the bond between patient and physician.
- The software makes it fast and easy to book an appointment.
- Patients do not risk exposure to illnesses.
If our clients had experience with the service and liked it—or even preferred it—is it far-fetched that they would embrace the same kind of service for their pets?
2. The world got virtual really fast.
Before the pandemic, the technology may have seemed too complicated for clients to adapt to telehealth. Today grandparents are using Zoom, yoga classes are online, and church-goers are singing hymns during virtual church services. We have fallen into a wonderland of possibilities, except the looking glass is a smartphone. Your business is grounded in brick-and-mortar land, but a significant part of the population is enthusiastic about the new world online.
3. Curbside care is challenging.
When veterinarians started offering curbside care, we found ourselves in a game of telephone tag. First, the doctor received a call when the client arrived. The technician called the client and then the doctor called the client to report the exam results. Finally, the receptionist called the client to process the payment and paperwork.
Telehealth cut curbside care appointment time in half. Employees working from home connect to clients using telehealth platforms and patient history. Invoicing is completed before the patient arrives in the parking lot. Once patients are on-site, their vitals are taken and exams are completed.
The workflow switch uses team members as they are available, which frees more space in the appointment book, alleviating the added time demands of curbside care.
4. We get a firsthand look at the environment.
Telemedicine consults have turned out to be more than an online exam; they are an invitation into the pet owner’s home. They let you see pets in their daily environment. We can see the stairs that the dog has trouble with, the litter pan that the cat is using, and where everything is located in the house. We can meet members of the pet owner’s family and other pets that we haven’t seen as patients. All this is possible because video chats feel more relaxed than a clinic visit.
5. There are many new care opportunities.
Now that we’ve acclimated to telehealth, we’ve discovered many other ways we can use it. This is not merely a substitution for what we were already doing. It opens up care to new possibilities. Here are some of them:
- Attract new clients by advertising telemedicine services.
- Include telemedicine as part of a wellness plan, allowing year-round engagement with clients and pets.
- Monetize and bring more value to the free phone advice we’ve been giving clients for years.
- Follow up with patients virtually to free up valuable appointment space.
- Compete with big-box stores, low-cost spay-neuter clinics, and other businesses.
- Increase compliance with semiannual exams and oversight on geriatric and end-of-life patients and those with chronic illness.
Viewing telemedicine as an additional service, instead of as an alternative for existing services, has changed the landscape of my practice. It is not just an online physical exam but another avenue of care, connection, and communication. There are dozens of ways we can use telehealth to increase compliance, convenience, and productivity and enhance the bond we have with our clients and patients.
6. It helps align our business model with the modern world.
Because of the pandemic, the internet has become more than a tool to source food and home supplies. Between April and June, nearly 656 million human health and fitness apps were downloaded.3 For pets, the market size for wearable technology is expected to reach $4.6 billion in 2027, compared with $1.6 billion in 2019.4 When we sync our software and our services to what our clients are already doing, we build ourselves inside their digital world. It seems that companies like BabelVet had it right all along.
Individuals using apps and wearables are having an ongoing conversation with service providers. Telehealth gives all health care providers a voice in that dialogue, which helps strengthen the client relationship. It is much more than a substitute for an in-person visit to the veterinarian. This technology connects us to the digital ecosystem that clients already live and work in.
Bash Halow, LVT, CVPM, runs Halow Consulting, a practice-management consulting business. In 20 years as a veterinary professional, he has been a practice manager, a regional manager, a hospital administrator, and a regular speaker at Fetch dvm360®. He is a graduate of the College of William and Mary and the Veterinary Management Institute at Purdue University.
- Webster P. Virtual health care in the era of COVID-19. Lancet. 2020;395(10231):1180-1181. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30818-7
- Updox survey reports 42 percent of Americans now using telehealth—convenience (51%) and speaking with provider of choice (49%) are top consumer demands post COVID-19. News release. Cision PRWeb; May 21, 2020. Accessed November 4, 2020. https://www.prweb.com/releases/updox_survey_reports_42_percent_of_americans_now_using_telehealth_convenience_51_and_speaking_with_provider_of_choice_49_are_top_consumer_demands_post_covid_19/prweb17139115.htm
- Developer. Health and fitness app downloads jumped 47% in Q2 as COVID-19 spread. Published June 5, 2020. Accessed November 4, 2020. https://developer-tech.com/news/2020/jun/05/health-fitness-app-downloads-covid-19-spread/
- Grand View Research. Pet wearable market size, share & trends analysis report by technology (RFID, GPS, sensors), by application (identification & tracking, medical diagnosis & treatment), by region, and segment forecasts, 2020-2027. Published February 2020. Accessed November 4, 2020. https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/pet-wearable-market