Business , Columns

Give it a try

When introduced and promoted properly, a telemedicine app can improve health care, strengthen the patient bond and increase revenue.

Give it a try
Consider setting your telehealth consult rate at 60 percent of your annual exam fee.

It’s no secret that technology is changing the way health care is delivered. As a veterinarian who manages two Indiana practices, Devonshire Veterinary Clinic in Anderson and Geist Station Animal Hospital in Indianapolis, I have found what works well for me and my team, so I am sometimes hesitant to change the way we deliver care.

Nineteen months ago, however, I took the plunge and implemented a telemedicine app in my practices. As a result, my clients are more satisfied, I can provide higher levels of care to more animals and I feel compelled to tell other veterinarians to try telemedicine to improve patient outcomes.

This is not a veterinary-specific issue. According to the Annals of Internal Medicine, 80 percent of doctors report feeling burned out and 73 percent say they’re contacted by patients after business hours and have no expectation of getting paid for it.

By adding a telemedicine application designed for busy veterinarians, practitioners can be compensated through a service fee.

In my experience, telemedicine streamlines communication with patients, supports clients after hours and increases practice revenue.

Connecting with patients using a telemedicine app helps to reinforce and strengthen the patient-doctor bond. My clients believe that I am more integrated into the care of their pet because they can reach me directly. They can ask simple questions and receive almost immediate answers from me, their trusted veterinarian. The app can save them time and effort because, in most cases, they don’t have to make an unnecessary trip to the clinic, avoiding the logistics of transport and the potential anxiety of both the pet and owner.

If you wish to take a step toward better patient outcomes and increased flexibility with your practice, now is the time to improve how you connect with clients.

Here are my tips for incorporating telemedicine into your veterinary practice:

1. Follow the AVMA Guidelines for Telehealth

The American Veterinary Medical Association requires all telemedicine consults to be with clients with whom you have an established veterinary-client-patient relationship, so make sure you are doing consults only with patients whom you have seen in person. If you do not have an established VCPR, you can still offer emergency triage and basic advice so long as the advice is not specific to a particular animal. For more on AVMA’s position, visit http://bit.ly/2NfvM9D.

2. Ensure Client and Patient Confidentiality

Cloud-secured records are possible with many telehealth applications. Make sure you select a telehealth app that protects your patients and yourself.

3. Define the Who, What, Where and When

Offering the service to everyone all the time will invite opportunities for failure. Try it out with a few specific clients in specific situations. Learn how to use the app, and engage with clients before offering it to the rest of them.

4. Tell Your Team

Informing your team about the new telehealth service will help ensure that they look for opportunities to engage clients.

5. Tell Your Clients

When you are ready, let clients know about the new app each time a patient comes into the client. Provide a handout offering instructions on how to download the app, get connected and get started.

6. Spread the Word

Post information about the app on your clinic’s social media channels and web page.

7. Set Expectations Early

Make sure clients know that you are not “open” all the time. You have a personal life, you have to sleep and you need time to be off­line. However, with telemedicine, you might find yourself unchained from the office and able to do consults remotely from home or from leisure-time locations. When you are orienting your clients on telehealth, let them know if you plan to be offline on weekends, after midnight or during vacation. If you want to be online 24/7 but will charge a premium for late-night services, be clear about your policy upfront. Your clients will appreciate the transparency and will respect your boundaries as long as you communicate them clearly.

8. Charge for a Consult

Your time is valuable, and you have the veterinary knowledge that your clients are looking for. Set your fees, say $25 to $50, for an animal health consultation according to best practices and commonly understood hourly or geographic rates. Consider setting your telehealth consult rate at 60 percent of your annual exam fee.

9. Turn Clients Into Advocates

Once pet owners or caregivers see what is possible with personalized telehealth, they will become your advocates. Team members will want to explore the telehealth option, and their word-of-mouth endorsement is the best way to grow your business. According to a Nielsen study, 92 percent of customers trust recommendations over advertising.

Best of luck as you embark on new ways of providing telemedicine to your clients and patients.

Innovation Station guest columnist Dr. Aaron Smiley is chief of staff at Devonshire Veterinary Clinic in Anderson, Indiana, and Geist Station Animal Hospital in Indianapolis. He is vice president of the Indiana Veterinary Medicine Association.

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