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Telehealth in veterinary medicine is garnering much gnashing of teeth from some and lots of investment dollars and entrepreneurial interest from others. Companies are interested in the money to be made in giving pet owners advice and sometimes recommending pets' care over the phone, through the internet and on smart devices.
Adam Little, DVM, an adjunct professor and director of innovation and entrepreneurship at Texas A&M and cofounder of FuturePet, told attendees at Fetch dvm360 in San Diego why telehealth is coming and why it makes sense for pet owners. But best of all, Dr. Little also shared some ways private practitioners are experimenting with it today, thanks to current players in the market.
Of course, he also learned that some of the companies that have entered the veterinary telemedicine space have already left, so judge accordingly.
New language is coming...
Dr. Adam Little highlighted a phrase describing an exam of an animal from the American Association of State Veterinary Boards that could appear, in the future, in various states' practice acts, if they so chose.
“A recent examination of the animal or group or animals, either physically or by the use of instrumentation and diagnostic equipment through which images and medical records may be transmitted electronically.” [our italics]
1. Software as a service
Your veterinary practice wants to offer some level of telemedicine services to your clients. One way? “Buying or licensing technology that you use to provide to your client,” says Dr. Little.
Companies like Anipanion, Medici, Petzam and VitusVet offer you the chance to do so. Be warned, though, says Dr. Little. Don't dip your toe in the water, set it and forget it: “For every clinician who's done this successfully, there's a dozen who bought the software and never tell their clients about it,” he says. “The successful ones incorporate this into their workflow.”
2. On-demand company
You don't want to license the software and staff the telemedicine service yourself, so you work with a company that provides on-demand telehealth services when you don't want to be “on.” Companies like ask.vet, fuzzy, GuardianVets and whiskerDocs offer you the chance.
“They look at augmenting your staff when you're not available,” Dr. Little says. “People use these services before and after a consultation at your clinic.”
The risk, he says, is that sometimes these outside referrals can happen before and after a veterinary client visits your practice and leave you a bit out of the loop, giving the pet owner a potentially “really broken” customer experience when they explain an issue first to an on-demand company, then see you to explain it again, then ask the on-demand company when you're done whether the visit with you makes sense.
Whether you're ready to try these services out, want to find your own path to offer more accessible advice and communication to clients, or you have absolutely no intention to do anything involving telehealth – no matter which you choose, you're making a choice.