With the novel coronavirus and the need for social distancing defining our existence today, veterinarians must get creative and adapt because this won’t be a one-month headache. Instead, how we reduce our direct and indirect contact with clients and their pets will serve as a defining moment for our profession. Telemedicine is one tool many veterinarians have turned to as a way to continue to assess and treat patients, while keeping staff safe.
The need is real. On March 15, the American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA) published guidelines regarding the use of telemedicine as a method of practicing social distancing. And just a few days ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) temporarily lifted some of its federal requirements for telemedicine.
Several digital platforms have emerged for assessing household pets’ health symptoms and providing other clinical data; recommending options; and enabling pet owners to alert and correspond with their veterinarian. While telemedicine isn’t meant to replace clinical exams, it does allow veterinarians to assess and treat their patients while keeping themselves, their staff, and their clients safe.
For practitioners mulling telemedicine for the first time, consider the following tips:
- Look for a telemedicine platform, of which there are several, that uses video and two-way messaging. Some of the advanced features now available include real-time chats, a sophisticated symptom checker for pet owners to assess a pet’s condition, and auto-updates of the pet’s medical record information through the clinic’s practice management software.
- Bring your staff into the loop and empower them to help you deliver virtual care. It’s essential telemedicine be compatible with your clinic workflow. Your office manager, for instance, must learn to respond to online queries as they would a telephone call or walk-in. Based on information provided by telemedicine, they can schedule appointments strategically. You may need to designate a technician to screen queries for urgency and guide clients if they need to schedule a physical visit, preferably a drop-off.
- When using a telemedicine platform, schedule dedicated telemedicine office hours that extend past your brick-and-mortar hours (i.e. early in the morning and later in the evening).
- Inform your clients about the telemedicine platform you use so they are aware of it. This strengthens client relationships and loyalty because pet owners get peace of mind knowing their veterinarian can still assess their pet’s health issues.
Hopefully, the COVID-19 pandemic will not continue for an extended period and we will all be able to welcome clients and their pets back to our clinics and hospitals. But until then, telemedicine can help deliver veterinary care while keeping staff and clients safe.
Shlomo Freiman, DVM, a graduate of Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine has been a practicing veterinarian for 25 years in Factoria, Wash. He is chief veterinary officer and cofounder of the telemedicine app, Petriage.