Implementing virtual care in veterinary practice
There are considerations in selecting the ideal telemedicine or digital platform for serving clients and patients.
Since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the veterinary profession has demonstrated robust adaptability—especially in streamlining services through virtual care. So how can you navigate the vast world of telemedicine without succumbing to information overload?
Crista Wallis, DVM, Virtual Care Consultant and Vet2Pet telemedicine coach from Shawnee, Kansas, said, “Understanding these types of platforms and successfully managing that information will help you make your platform decision.” During her lecture at the 2021 Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference® (ACVC) in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Wallis highlighted a few pearls to help professionals better understand these platforms—from integral virtual care features to the nuances between all-in-one platforms and telemedicine.
What to look for in a telemedicine platform
Wallis encouraged veterinary professionals to consider what they want from a telemedicine platform. “Make a list of the features that are important to your team, clients, and practice, and focus on 3 platforms to demo that have those features,” she advised.
For those whose clinics may already have a communications platform, she recommended calling the customer service representative to see whether there are added or new features. Following are some areas to consider in making the best selection.
A strong cybersecurity program is a must when searching for a reliable platform. This feature employs a comprehensive infrastructure that supports vital and confidential record keeping.
According to Wallis, questions to ask when assessing platform security include the following:
- Are there liability or usage waivers that clients must read and sign before using the platform?
- What security backup is offered if something goes wrong with the technology? (Do-it-yourself platforms may not have the security required for practices.)
The platform must have a user-friendly interface to help streamline services. If the platform is difficult to operate, veterinary team members may grow frustrated and give up. To limit confusion between staff and clients, Wallis advised ruling out any videos that require too many steps, clicks, or screens.
When conversing with clients through a 2-way chat or video consultation, professionals must be able to easily save the conversation. When selecting the best platform for your clinic, make sure it can record and document teletriage and telemedicine conversations with clients.
Wallis encouraged attendees to consider asking these questions:
- Do you have to cut and paste?
- How do you integrate the cases into practice management systems (PMS)?
- What PMS integrates with the platform?
- Can you take notes, or can the videos and pictures be saved and downloaded?
“Ease of documentation is a must to maintain a valid VCPR [veteri- nary-client-patient-relationship], which is still an essential relationship for practicing medicine,” noted Wallis.
Wallis said one of the most critical questions veterinarians and practice managers can ask when entering the telemedicine world is, “How are fees collected? ”
During the decision process, it is important to ask questions such as the following:
- What does the platform charge?
- Is there a monthly fee, a transaction fee, or both?
- What does the merchant sign-up process look like within the platform?
- Is it cumbersome or simple to sign up?
“With a successful platform, you can easily and efficiently collect fees through a secure virtual payment feature,” said Wallis.
All-in-one vs telemedicine
According to Wallis, understanding the variations between all-in-one and telemedicine platforms can help veterinarians or practice managers make the best selection for their practice.
These platforms employ refined technology for live and asynchronous text methods. The technology for these platforms is also well constructed because they usually streamline their resources into 1 communication line with clients. These platforms also have web browser and app capabilities. Another advantage is that telemedicine tends to be less costly than all-in-one platforms. However, Wallis noted that this process has disadvantages. For example, it can be burdensome for clients to have to download multiple apps for communication as opposed to having all communication pathways in 1 platform.
These platforms offer more features than telemedicine, including appointment reminders and loyalty programs, prescription and food refills, push notifications and email blasts, chat/video telemedicine capabilities, and more. These robust services allow veterinary clinics to efficiently communicate with clients, removing the need for multiple apps and services that can be confusing for staff and clients. However, there are drawbacks. For starters, Wallis pointed out that these comprehensive platforms tend to be less savvy than their telemedicine counter- parts. Also, unlike telemedicine, all-in-one platforms tend to be more expensive.
Say ‘no’ to information overload
Now that you have asked questions, reviewed options, and selected your ideal platform, what comes next? If you ask Wallis, the final piece is eliminating additional input and focusing on successfully integrating your new platform into the workplace.
When information overload occurs, it can create indecision and doubt, overcomplicating the search for the best fit. To combat this, Wallis advised tuning out all the incoming information and applying your efforts in making the platform a success. Additionally, she recommended using a 6-month time frame before determining whether you are unhappy with the services and deciding to start anew.
“Picking a platform can be overwhelming for anyone; however, if you prepare your questions before the demo, then you will be able to navigate the waters when they get bumpy and come out on top with a platform that best suits your needs,” Wallis said.