Dr. Shawna Garner is a 2001 graduate of the Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine and the lead U.S. veterinarian for the on-demand video consultation platform FirstVet. She was in general practice for two years in Indianapolis and served for five years as an emergency room clinician.Read Articles Written by Shawna Garner
Veterinary telehealth is certainly not new. Jokingly, veterinarians say it started in the late 1800s, when the telephone was invented. Today, the main questions surrounding telehealth center on the regulations governing its use and why a veterinarian should consider offering telehealth services. But first, let’s define teleheath in the veterinary context.
Veterinary telehealth is the exchange of medical knowledge between a pet owner and a veterinary professional over a digital infrastructure. The communication can occur through email, texting, video conferencing or a simple call. The primary categories are:
- Teletriage: Determining whether an animal needs immediate medical help.
- Teleadvice: General information given to a pet owner on nutrition, potty training, husbandry or other topics unrelated to a medical issue.
- Teleconsulting: The exchange between a veterinary medicine specialist and a general practitioner concerning a specific patient or disease process.
- Telemedicine: What a clinician provides to a pet owner when a veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) has been established. A diagnosis, prognosis and drug prescribing can occur over a digital infrastructure.
Each state can have unique definitions of telehealth and telehealth services, which typically are written into the veterinary medical practice act. The consensus within states that permit telehealth is that a VCPR must be present. Under standard definitions, telehealth services are primarily guidance and advice, while telemedicine allows doctors under a VCPR to examine a patient virtually and prescribe medications.
Why should every clinic offer telehealth services? Here are six reasons.
1. Greater Client Demand
Millennials, Gen Xers and Gen Zers make up over 60% of the U.S. pet-owning population. For the first time, these three generations have outpaced baby boomers in pet ownership. Younger generations are technologically advanced and very conscientious pet owners.
Even as younger tech-savvy generations lead the way, baby boomers have come on board quickly. In general, pet owners want on-demand veterinary services that allow for optimal pet care and wellness.
2. Less Fatigue
Between managing in-hospital patient care and appointments, members of the veterinary team have to find the time to call clients and field questions. Often overheard around the clinic is this line: “You will need to bring your pet in for an exam.”
The problem is that pet owners sometimes don’t have time to bring in a cat or dog, or they are conflicted because of the stress that travel can cause to an animal. Too often, the veterinary team belatedly realizes that a hands-on visit wasn’t necessary.
Human medicine has used telehealth and telemedicine for decades, so pet owners see their veterinary clinic as a source of medical advice. When pet owners utilize telehealth, the back and forth between clinic staff decreases, freeing up team members to focus on in-clinic clients and patients.
3. More Revenue
Telehealth services can be a new revenue stream. Charging for a telehealth appointment like you would an office visit increases cash flow. Clinics that promote wellness packages can create virtual wellness packages. By providing telehealth services when a hands-on exam isn’t necessary, clinics can book in-clinic appointments for those patients requiring diagnostics or treatments, increasing the average client transaction.
4. Better Client Retention
Telehealth services improve the overall satisfaction of pet owners, leading to greater loyalty and retention. The average client churn rate is about 13%, but when clinics offer telehealth services, the turnover rate falls by about 3 percentage points.
5. Happier Associate DVMs
Clinics can offer after-hours telehealth services by partnering with a telehealth company. Associate veterinarians looking for a better work-life balance will search for practices that do not require after-hours work or on-call shifts. Given the shortage of associate DVMs, you should want your clinic to be as competitive as possible when you have a job opening.
6. A New Career Path
Telehealth is quickly becoming a new career choice for veterinarians, and some leave clinical practice to pursue it. Telehealth allows them to stay in the field they love while working remotely and from the comfort of home.
Telehealth benefits veterinarians and clinics by reducing burnout and better utilizing staff members’ time. It helps to stabilize and increase client retention and loyalty and improve associate DVM acquisition and retention.
The benefits are clear for both patients and practitioners.
BY THE NUMBERS
According to the American Pet Products Association, nearly 85 million U.S. households care for at least one pet. The trade organization’s 2019-2020 survey found that 63.4 million households have a dog and 42.7 million have a cat. Saltwater fish? 1.6 million.