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Telemedicine: a new frontier for veterinary clinics

When we book an appointment in the modern world, it often takes a few swipes of our phone screens and within a matter of seconds, we’ll receive a booking confirmation in our inbox. Easy!

This ‘digital first’ behavior is extending into all parts of our lives, and as our human healthcare services are gradually increasing their digital capabilities, virtual veterinary services – referred to as ‘telehealth’ or ‘telemedicine’ – are following suit.  

What is telemedicine? 

It might sound futuristic but veterinary ‘telehealth’ describes virtual veterinary services and ‘telemedicine’ is the term used for digital interactions between the veterinarian and client. This can refer to the use of text messaging, photo messaging, email and video calls, right through to the use of apps and wearable devices (although right now, devices are mainly used to monitor livestock rather than pets). 

While pet owners are demanding a digital experience to align with their lifestyles, it can provide significant benefits to veterinarians too. 

1. General wellness advice

When we have a question we need answering, for many of us the internet is our first port of call. But we’re often faced with a multitude of results to sift through to find the most accurate source. A telemedicine service, delivered through email, the website or text message, can help veterinarians provide owners with reliable expert advice they can trust, while also increasing exposure to pet owners and building a closer relationship. 

Already apps such as PetCoach, offer free veterinary advice to worried pet owners. While in a step towards telemedicine, some veterinary clinics are considering installing chatbots to their websites to answer owner questions, which can be particularly useful for any out-of-hours queries and may even assist with client recruitment. 

2. Post-surgical care 

When an animal has undergone an operation, post-surgical care is important for recovery. Owners can help veterinarians monitor this critical stage simply through the power of their smartphone. Veterinarians can keep on top of a patient’s post-op recovery by asking the owner to send images of the incision site to track how it is healing and pick up on any abnormalities early on. Videos or video calls can help the veterinarian monitor the animal’s behavior and mobility in their home environment, avoiding the need to bring the pet into the clinic for a check-up, which could be uncomfortable and potentially cause unnecessary stress.  

Some businesses, such as US-based TeleVet, offer telemedicine capabilities specifically for clinics to organize virtual check-ups and post-op appointments. TeleVet connects to the clinic’s in-house software, allowing them to outsource the hassle of setting up telehealth capabilities while retaining control of delivering the care themselves.  

3. Convenient veterinary care

For many pet owners, bringing their pet into the clinic is a challenge; it may be that their pet doesn’t enjoy the experience, doesn’t mix well in the waiting room, they are senior animals or terminally ill. Telemedicine offers these pet owners a way to ease these issues, requiring them to take their pet into the clinic only when it is absolutely necessary.  

San Francisco-based start-up, Fuzzy Pet Health, is offering pet owners a completely new experience, using telemedicine to meet this demand for convenience and, they claim, lower cost veterinary services. Its subscription-based model starts from $50 per month, giving owners unlimited access to veterinary professionals, so they can ask any questions from the convenience of the sofa. And for any hands-on checkups, owners can simply book to see a veterinarian when and where it suits them (although this is only available in New York and San Francisco Bay) while any medication is mailed monthly. 

Are digital client services the future for veterinary clinics? 

According to research, digital demand is only going to strengthen – millennials are 39% more likely to own a dog or cat in future than the previous baby boomer generation. And a similar proportion (40%) believe telemedicine is an “extremely important or very important option”. With these numbers, there is a strong case to start exploring those digital client conversations now, so it’s ready for tech-savvy Generation Z.

Please note: HealthforAnimals does not endorse the services mentioned above. These are provided as illustrative examples only.