Marketing Telehealth to Fido & Fifi: Telemedicine Goes to the Dogs and Cats, Too!

Summary:

Telemedicine has been gaining popularity for many individuals because of  COVID-19, but it hasn’t stopped there. There are an increasing number of opportunities to utilize telemedicine services for your pets.

What exactly is telemedicine for pets? If a veterinarian is texting a client to see how Fluffy is doing or answering a question about medication side effects, they are using telemedicine. If a veterinarian is monitoring an animal remotely, even if the animal is in the clinic and the veterinarian is keeping a close watch on the pet’s vital signs from another location, they are using telemedicine.

How can pet owners adopt telemedicine for their animals?

Using telemedicine for your pets is probably easier than you would think! Simply using a computer or phone with a webcam service such as FaceTime, Zoom, or Skype (to name a few), you can meet with a licensed veterinarian for advice or an assessment for your pet.

Does veterinary telemedicine differ from telemedicine for humans?

Veterinary telehealth services are still in their infancy compared to human telehealth. However, veterinary telemedicine is undergoing a rapid growth phase. New technologies, platforms and companies are emerging to address and fill the demand for this type of service.

As long as the veterinarian has an established Veterinarian-Client-Patient-Relationship (VCPR) as defined by the state in which they are licensed, they can offer telemedicine services.1

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) believes that: “veterinary telemedicine should only be conducted within an existing Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship (VCPR), with the exception of advice given in an emergency until that patient can be seen by a veterinarian.”

In the absence of a VCP, the AVMA recommends that any advice provided via telemedicine should  be general and not specific to a diagnosis, treatment or patient. 

While rules vary from state-to-state, some veterinarians can actually write a prescription for your pet if needed, but others may advise you to bring your pet in after your virtual appointment if the issue is more serious or requires further attention.

What types of veterinary services are offered via telemedicine?

Though things such as surgeries (although veterinarians can remotely assist in difficult surgeries with a colleague remotely using telemedicine) and more emergency-related procedures cannot be performed virtually, there are plenty of  telehealth services that can be utilized, such as:

  • Postoperative follow-up
  • Dermatologic concerns
  • Behavioral issues/training
  • Hospice care
  • Basic triage (whether the pet should be seen by the veterinarian)
  • Environmental concerns/hazards that might contribute to a particular condition
  • Long-term care monitoring

Since telehealth services for pets are relatively new, guidelines and official policies around administering veterinary telemedicine care are still being developed. But there are a few states – Connecticut, the District of Columbia, and Alaska – that state a veterinarian can prescribe medication as long as they have met the pet in person at least once to start a relationship, while Texas flatly will not allow a relationship to be started virtually.As the use of telehealth for pets becomes more widely adopted, states will be faced with establishing appropriate care policies that meet the standard of care as defined by the AVMA.

How many companies are offering telemedicine for pets?

Telemedicine for the pet industry, just as it is in the human health industry, is evolving and growing.

There are, of course, a few leaders and big players in the space as of now:

  • WhiskerDocs: Basically, a telephone consult; think of it as teletriage for pets!
  • ZippiVet: Currently available in areas in Texas, they provide a human medicine level of telemedicine services with virtual consultations.
  • VetChat: This service, offered through Banfield Pet Hospital, allows you to check-in 24/7 for pet care advice and support.
  • JustAnswer Veterinary: Allows you to connect with around-the-clock veterinarians who are available to answer your questions, one-on-one.

Besides these leaders, below are a few other companies with telehealth services such as online scheduling and virtual visits available in the veterinary space:

The great benefit of veterinary telehealth services is that the cost to chat with someone virtually versus bringing your pet to an after-hours emergency clinic, especially if it is something you thought was a bigger deal but ends up to not be a huge emergency, is a huge cost-savings for the pet owner.

Will telemedicine for pets explode like it has for humans?

This is a hard question to answer as of now, but if all the love we have for our beloved pets keeps growing as it has, this is probably a yes. Total U.S. Pet Industry Expenditures in 2019 totaled $95.7 billion, and are expected to rise to $99 billion for 2020.3

Some veterinary schools, such as Texas A&M, are even offering telemedicine services. This is a step in the right direction for the future of telemedicine for pets, and we think it is safe to say it will be sticking around.