These veterinarians leverage telemedicine for practice profit


Telemedicine offers profit and high-quality care to clients and practitioners.

Have you ever seen the science fiction movies where doctors run a device over a patient and instantly diagnose the problem? Modern medicine isn't quite there yet, but with the help of telemedicine you might feel a lot closer. The opportunity to communicate with diagnostic experts over the phone or via e-mail, relaying images over the Web, is a great relief for many general practitioners. Telemedicine is also a potential profit center that can boost the quality of medicine your practice offers.

In veterinary practice, there's often a positive correlation between offering better medicine and boosting your revenue. And telemedicine is no exception, says Dr. Dennis Elmer (pictured), co-owner of Advanced Veterinary Care Group in Canton, Mich. “If you look at your services from the standpoint of healthcare and better medicine, the profitability comes,” he says. “You don't have to worry about that part, as long as you're charging appropriately for what you're doing.”

Dr. Elmer says he uses telemedicine before every surgery to determine whether the patient can safely undergo anesthesia. “We also find problems that would have gone undiagnosed if we did not use telemedicine,” he says. “Treating these problems is a source of revenue, and it prevents illness from getting to a late stage before detection. Patients live longer, and we demonstrate we care enough to find problems, not just react once the pet is sick.”

Use these steps to launch an effective telemedicine program in your practice:

1. Set your standards of care. Will telemedicine be something you recommend in certain cases, or will it be mandatory? Dr. Elmer and his partner, Dr. Eric Larsen, decided they would require telemedicine for each case in their referral practice. Dr. Elmer says his practice uses telemedicine daily, because they perform an ECG before every surgery. “We also send out MRI images two to five times per month and use a telemedicine radiologist,” he says.

2. Name your price. At Advanced Veterinary Care Group, they opted to charge a fixed price for telemedicine because they use it for every referral case. “Not itemizing means clients can't pick and choose which items they want for their pet's care,” Dr. Elmer says.

He's also a partner in a day practice that itemizes but doesn't allow clients to pick and choose services (see "Brave New Practice" in related links below). “If they don't want telemedicine, they don't have surgery at our facility,” he says. “We believe it's important to know the status of the patient. That means we want a board-certified cardiologist to sign off on our anesthesia.”

3. Work smarter. With telemedicine, labor is the biggest cost. “The labor is minimum on any one case, but it adds up when you have multiple cases,” Dr. Elmer says. “The ECG process takes five to 10 minutes per patient. If you have five surgeries that morning, your technical staff is tied up for an hour. It's easy to fit an ECG in between other duties, but there's also a 20-minute lag time between running the test and receiving the telemedicine results.” Scheduling your cases to perform several ECGs at the same time will help minimize your time and expense.

4. Market your services. “We print our standards of care on all of our literature and our Web site so everyone knows that telemedicine is included in our services,” Dr. Elmer says. “Our preoperative standard is a telemedicine ECG, chest films, blood gases, and a coagulation panel.”

Telemedicine is cost effective because it requires virtually no investment. Just keep in mind that you may need additional equipment to provide the data that specialists need to offer results. For example, when Dr. Elmer started his referral practice, he purchased an ECG and an MRI.

“Telemedicine is a practice builder if you're trying to position yourself as a medical facility rather than as a shot clinic,” Dr. Elmer says. “Clients are loyal to our practice because they perceive they're getting the best value, not necessarily the cheapest price.”

And it's never been easier to take advantage of specialty care at an affordable rate. “Raising the standards of medical care is the right thing for your clients and patients, and it will pay off in the end,” Dr. Elmer says. “The cost of implementing telemedicine services is offset by higher client satisfaction and better patient care.”

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