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The Doctor Will See You Now (Virtually): Veterinary Telemedicine

Author: Robert J. Weiner, VMD, ABVP

Veterinary Telemedicine encompasses the use of technology to leverage the veterinarian’s ability to care for pets. For many years, veterinarians have used technology to send digital files of x-rays, ultrasound examinations (sonograms and echocardiograms) medical records and photomicrographs (digital pictures taken through a microscope) to specialists for consultations. Technology has evolved, opening up new opportunities for veterinary practice to care for pets. In my practice I commonly report laboratory results to my clients by email. This way the client has all their pet’s laboratory results at their fingertips if they need them in an emergency. Also, my accompanying explanation of the results makes more sense when the pet owner has the actual report with the normal ranges (and past results) in front of them than if I were to rattle numbers to them over the telephone. The laboratory results and my explanation are easily and accurately shared among interested family members. This relieves one family member of having to reproduce a telephoned explanation and everyone stays on the same page.

TeleTails is one of a few electronic platforms that facilitate electronic or virtual office visits between veterinarians and pet owners. This enables a pet owner and veterinary staff to address a medical question via video conference. There are limitations to this. The veterinarian cannot palpate an abdomen, evaluate a pulse or look inside an ear canal virtually. It would not replace an annual examination and certainly is not appropriate for most emergency situations. It can help owners and veterinarians triage many problems and determine if an in-office visit is needed. Preliminary evaluation of lumps and bumps, rashes, lameness and some other issues could be addressed this way. Post-surgical questions or follow ups might be able to be addressed this way. A veterinarian or technician could evaluate a surgical incision via video much better than by an emailed photo. Often discussions about nutrition, preventative care and other health issues can be addressed better via video conference than by telephone or email. This platform facilitates creation of a medical record of the consult that becomes a permanent part of the pet’s electronic medical record. In New City where so many of us have a long commute to work a video consultation might prevent a pet owner from missing a day of work.

The pet owners download the TeleTails app for their smart phone. They then enable notifications, create a profile and enter the code of the provider. For my office, County Animal Hospital, the code is COUNTY. Then click on “start a consultation”. My front office staff then schedules a time for the consultation to occur. Payment is collected through the App by credit card via secure connection.

A valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship is the basis for good veterinary care. Video consultations would only be offered to patients that have been seen in our office within the past year. As with all technology, this will evolve over time. New technology and ingenuity will extend the electronic reach of virtual veterinary care. Virtual care through your own veterinarian is a much more trustworthy alternative to Dr. Google.

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