Helping Pet Owners with Veterinary Telemedicine

Rocky was the dog everyone loved: friendly, affectionate, quirky and playful, with lots of personality. So when mucous developed around Rocky’s left eye, and he began sneezing more than normal, my normally stoic cousin morphed into a nervous wreck. Was something seriously wrong with his beloved dog?

This is a situation where veterinary telemedicine could have helped. Instead of the 48 agonizing hours between discovery and taking Rocky to the vet, with veterinary telemedicine my cousin could have quickly consulted with his vet over video chat and calmed his fears. Possibly he even could have avoided taking time off from work to escort Rocky to the vet for the physical examination.

Telemedicine technology is a growing field thanks to smartphones and increasingly easy and cost-effective video chat conferencing. The global telemedicine market currently stands at $23.8 billion, according to recent BCC Research, and it is expected to reach $55.1 billion by 2021. Veterinary medicine is not excluded from this trend.

“Telemedicine provides an opportunity to strengthen a VCPR [veterinarian-client-patient-relationship],” explains veterinarian Ed Blach, founder of vet service, ask.vet. “Veterinarians are using it to communicate better with clients after surgery, to manage chronic illness or to assess pain management. It builds client loyalty and provides peace of mind and convenience when it matters most.”

Veterinary Telemedicine Augments Care

Of course, veterinary telemedicine is different than other forms of telehealth because patients cannot speak for themselves. The American Veterinary Medical Association Model Practice Act requires that vets have an established relationship with the pet and the person responsible for the patient before treatment, a relationship that must start in person. But that doesn’t mean vets and their patients must lose out on the benefits of telemedicine.

The Model Practice Act requires that the relationship to the patient start in person, but veterinary telemedicine can augment veterinary services by providing remote follow-up visits, standard check-ups after the initial VCPR has been established, and handling routine questions, among other uses.

“There are so many common questions that people want to know,” stresses Curt Revelette, who runs a service called VetOnDemand. “They currently are not going to a veterinarian to wait an hour or spend a couple hundred dollars for these minor questions, so what they’re doing is going to Google, and there’s a lot of misinformation out there.”

Veterinary telemedicine can help pet owners wade through this misinformation by providing general advice on-demand by way of video chat consultation, and it can serve as a stopgap until an in-person visit can be scheduled. This would have been useful for Rocky and his owner. This is a more advanced and complete solution than vet hotlines, which already are widely used, and veterinary telemedicine has the approval of professional bodies such as the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA).

“Giving advice to an existing client who has contacted you by phone is something all veterinarians do. Think of a virtual service as a different form of the same type of communication,” notes a CVMA missive on the topic.

Helps with Specialist Consultation, Too

Veterinary practices not only can provide general advice and smooth follow-ups with telemedicine, they also can use video chat for better specialist consultation.

One example of veterinary telemedicine used for specialist consultation is the service, VetDentalRad.com. Board-certified veterinary dentists can perform a standard dental case review for as little as $45 through the service, and vets can make better decisions on issues such as anesthetic events by engaging with remote specialists through the company.

While the value of offering telemedicine to pet owners is an easy sell, historically the issue has been cost and technological complexity. Many vets think that while useful, veterinary telemedicine just is beyond the capabilities of their practice. But this is not the case.

Agora.io makes veterinary telemedicine both easy to deploy and cost-effective, something that every vet can include in their practice.

Our real-time video conferencing solution for telemedicine is easy to include in web pages or apps, and all the technological considerations are handled in the cloud by our more than 70 global data centers. Pet owners don’t need to install plugins or software because the service uses technology that works natively in modern web browsers, too. It is as easy to use as email.

Offering veterinary telemedicine also isn’t costly. Agora.io is pay-as-you-go, the first 10,000 minutes are free, and thereafter it is only $3,990 for 1 million minutes of video conferencing. This cloud economic model lowers the cost basis for telemedicine by an order of magnitude compared with traditional video licensing models. Agora Video for Telemedicine has no up-front licensing, capital expense or long-term commitments.

So is your veterinary practice using telemedicine? If not, now is the time to start considering it.