New app offers remote access to veterinary behavior specialists

June 15, 2020
Amanda Carrozza

Amanda Carrozza is a freelance writer and editor in New Jersey.

This unique telehealth platform enables both veterinarians and pet owners to gain insight from board-certified behaviorists.

Veterinary behavior specialists are a necessity, yet access to these niche experts is often hindered by location, unfamiliarity or, as of late, a global pandemic. The behavioral clinic team at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet) hopes to change that. With the recent launch of the Penn Vet Behavior App, veterinarians and their clients now have access to expert veterinary behavior insight from the comfort of their home or clinic. The web-based application is a joint venture between the university, Intellivets and Connect for Education.

“This platform is not by any means a substitute for a comprehensive in-person appointment with a behavioral specialist,” said Carlo Siracusa, DVM, MS, PhD, DACVB, DECAWBM, who leads Penn Vet’s behavior team, in an interview with dvm360. Instead, it is a tool that enables veterinarians to collaborate with specialists on a variety of behavior issues.

How does it work?

As Dr. Siracusa explained, any veterinarian who is not a licensed behavioral specialist can submit a consultation request on behalf of a client. They are then provided with a designated dashboard to upload necessary medical records and details about the patient’s clinical signs. The referring veterinarian then provides the pet owner with access to the same portal to complete a questionnaire and provide any additional information relative to the case, including videos of the pet.

The specialists at Penn Vet then assess the case using the same approach they would apply to an in-person appointment. In addition to providing their recommendations, the app allows the behaviorist to provide frame-by-frame comments to any of the uploaded videos. This is a unique feature that Dr. Siracusa believes will help pet owners better understand the specific body language of their pet and how to correct troublesome behavior.

It's all about empowerment

In developing the platform, Dr. Siracusa felt it was crucial that the primary care veterinarian and pet owner are equally involved, and that all parties share a mutual digital space. Ultimately, the discussions with the Penn Vet team are only consultations and it is up to the veterinarian who has an established veterinarian-client-patient-relationship to prescribe the final treatment. Including the pet owner in the process ensures there are no gaps in information.

The Penn Vet Behavior App has been designed to offer support for a wide range of behavioral dilemmas. “We have some veterinarians who feel pretty confident treating behavior cases but they have tried their standard protocols (medication, training, etc.) and it didn’t work well so they would like a more advanced treatment,” Dr. Siracusa explained. “That would be a perfect scenario for consulting with us.”

In other cases, the veterinarian may not have experience addressing behavioral concerns and is therefore not as comfortable treating even mild to moderate signs. Through a consultation with one of the specialists, the veterinarian can obtain guidance on how to advise a client whose pet may be experiencing separation anxiety or noise aversion.

“We really want this platform to empower the broader veterinary community and enhance the level of care that they can provide to their own patients,” Intellivets CEO KimMi Whitehead, VMD, DACVECC, said in an article announcing the app. “The veterinarian portion of the portal was specifically designed with our general practitioners in mind, and we pushed ourselves to create a thoughtful tool that would be practical and useful in a variety of ways.”