Telemedicine to the rescue
Remote tools can help blunt COVID-19’s impact on veterinary practices.
As a practicing veterinarian for a quarter century, I have never experienced a time like this, when vets must be as concerned about potentially sick pet owners as we are about the clients’ sick pets. Many clients are understandably reluctant to come to the office for a face-to-face consultation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Added to that, I’m at an age considered most at risk for the contagion’s most serious effects. It’s undeniably concerning.
For these reasons, I was happy to see that the American Veterinary Medical Association’s latest guidelines for veterinarians — “What Veterinarians Need to Know,” posted at http://bit.ly/3d9uaLT — underline the role that telemedicine can play to maintain one’s practice during this traumatic period. If ever there was a reason to employ telemedicine, this crisis has provided it.
I have long been an advocate for telemedicine and began exploring it in 2015. I quickly became so convinced of its benefits that I co-founded a veterinary telemedicine company, Petriage, in 2016. But whether you use Petriage or another telemedicine platform, investigating and applying one now is imperative.
In today’s COVID-19 environment, telemedicine platforms provide effective alternatives to in-person consultations while helping keep the veterinary team, client and patient safe. Some tools use sophisticated, machine-learning artificial intelligence to assess symptoms and present an automated triage recommendation. Clients can request interaction with the veterinarian during telemedicine hours or regular office hours.
In real time, telemedicine tools enable clients to upload photos and video via instant messaging. This keeps the veterinarian in the loop, ensuring continuous care and avoiding unnecessary ER visits, strengthening the client relationship, and driving business back to the brick-and-mortar hospital. A well-designed telemedicine platform can streamline practice workflow by sending medical information directly to an office management system.
Obviously, telemedicine’s advantage in today’s COVID-19 world is that it’s available remotely and can help the veterinarian continue to provide pet care without an office visit and at the same time triage patients that must come in.
What’s notable from my practice’s data is that only about 5% of teletriage cases are genuine emergencies. The rest can be handled during business hours and don’t require a visit to an emergency clinic. Even during office hours, the teletriage tool helps to prescreen cases and control workflow in busy practices. For this reason, well before the appearance of the novel coronavirus in the United States, all my active patients were enrolled on the telehealth platform.
Many observers have said telemedicine will become standard in the veterinary industry. The coronavirus crisis is the proverbial wakeup call.
Dr. Shlomo Freiman, a Factoria, Washington, veterinarian, is chief veterinary officer and co-founder of the telemedicine app Petriage.