Veterinarian Interests   10/14/2022

Veterinary Telemedicine & How Accurate Is This Type of Support?

By Jonathan Decker

Veterinary Telemedicine & How Accurate Is This Type of Support?

Veterinary telemedicine is becoming more popular amongst animal lovers and is a proven way to keep animals healthy. A survey found that 83 percent of patients plan to use it next time their pet needs care.

Telemedicine falls under the larger category of telehealth and can be provided in many different ways, including via telephone or video calls, text messaging and online chats. Here are some categories that fall under telehealth:

  • Telemedicine– Involves the use of an electronic tool to exchange medical data electronically between two sites to improve a patient’s clinical health. You can use Skype or a mobile application to communicate with clients and observe the patient visually for a follow-up examination.
  • Teleconsulting– When a general practitioner veterinarian uses telehealth tools for communication with a specialist to gain insight and advice on the treatment of a patient.
  • Telemonitoring– Allows remote monitoring of patients not in the same physical location as their healthcare provider. It could include a portable glucose monitor or a wearable device that records vital signs.
  • Teleadvice– Provides any information, opinion or guidance regarding prudent future actions, but is not specific to a patient's condition, health or injury. This advice is general and is not meant to diagnose, treat, cure, change, mitigate or prevent any animal disease, illness or pain.
  • Teletriage– Does not provide a diagnosis. It is the process of making safe and sound decisions about a patient's disposition, whether they are referred to a veterinarian immediately or not.
  • E–prescribing or electronic prescribing– A digital-based generation and transmission of a medical prescription. It replaces paper prescriptions and faxes. Prescription requirements can vary from one state to the next, depending on whether controlled substances are involved.
  • Mobile health or mHealth– An animal’s health is monitored through the use of a wearable device and can be helpful to veterinarians if there’s a veterinary-client-patient relationship (VCPR) in place or may be used for consumer education.

Historically, telemedicine for pets could be performed only within the context of an existing VCPR. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, veterinarians were asked to limit their in-person contact with clients; therefore, telemedicine was made more accessible to pet owners by some local and federal governments.

Some veterinary hospitals have their own telemedicine service. These services can be provided by veterinarians who work in the hospital or contracted veterinarians. This arrangement is advantageous, as these veterinarians have access to a pet’s medical records, so they can look up previous information and record notes during the current telemedicine visit.

What Issues Can Telemedicine Address?

Telemedicine is not suitable for all cases. For example, a dog who has been struck by a car or has large bleeding wounds needs to be treated in person.

Telemedicine can address many common veterinary problems and chronic issues, such as behavior, flea allergies, recent-acute (sudden-onset) moderate limping or recent-onset mild diarrhea. It doesn't allow for detailed medical evaluations, but many minor conditions can be treated through telemedicine based on the pet’s clinical signs and symptoms.

Telemedicine can also serve to monitor existing patients or provide follow-up care, such as post-surgical rechecks and monitoring pets with chronic medical issues. These visits may also be sufficient to fill heartworm- and flea-prevention medications.

How Can a Veterinarian Diagnose Via Telemedicine?

Veterinarians gather information about the animal through two methods during a typical veterinary visit: the pet’s medical history and physical exam.

Medical history can be obtained during a telemedicine appointment, just as it is during an in-person visit. It is important to understand what the signs are¬— when they started, how long they have been present and any other information about the pet's past. This will help narrow down possible diagnoses. The medical history can be just as important as the physical exam in many cases.

Although it is not possible to do a thorough, comprehensive exam via telemedicine, veterinarians may be able to gather enough information to make a presumptive diagnosis and begin treatment. Typically, a telemedicine appointment will consist of pictures or videos of the issue, which may be helpful for the veterinarian’s diagnosis. For example, a video of the dog running and walking if they are limping. The veterinarian might ask the patient to inspect certain items in the pet's body, like checking the color of their gums or explaining how to check their heart rate. They may also recommend things for the pet owner to do at home or prescribe medication to treat the condition.

In What Other Situations Is Telemedicine Useful?

Telemedicine can be especially useful and necessary in cases where pet owners are unable to physically transport their pet to the veterinary hospital. Pet owners in remote areas may not be able to bring their pets to the veterinarian if they become ill or hurt. The virtual appointment may allow vets to determine the best diagnosis and create a treatment plan based on their experience. Additionally, a preliminary evaluation by a telemedicine veterinarian may be able to act as a referral and assist a patient with getting an earlier appointment with their booked-solid primary veterinarian if so needed.

What Happens if a Pet Is Not Eligible for Telemedicine?

Based on the telemedicine visit, the veterinarian might determine that the animal needs in-person treatment. The pet may require the onsite attention of a veterinarian or they might not have collected enough information to give an accurate diagnosis. Additional diagnostic tests may be necessary to determine the root cause of the problem, such as bloodwork, radiographs or ultrasound. Despite some minor deficiencies, telemedicine can still provide preliminary advice for immediate relief and to avoid more serious consequences.

How Can One Promote New Telemedicine Services?

When a veterinarian adds telemedicine to their suite of existing services, it’s imperative to get the word out to current and prospective patients. But, what’s the best way? Read on to learn about helpful marketing tactics for veterinarians.

For information on 360 Coverage Pros veterinary malpractice insurance, review our coverage information.