Three ways Covid-19 has changed the veterinary profession
2020 has been a challenging year for the veterinary care sector. While the Covid-19 pandemic has obviously put our human healthcare services to the test, the huge impact it has had on veterinary services and animal health globally cannot be ignored.
Veterinarians have had to respond to evolving lockdown restrictions, provide clients and colleagues with Covid-19 safe environments and embrace digital healthcare while ensuring they can continue as viable businesses.
We take a look at three ways Covid-19 has evolved the veterinary world.
1. Impacted relationships with pets and owners
Classed as ‘essential workers’ across many parts of the world, veterinarians have been allowed to operate amid lockdown measures. But despite remaining open, more than a quarter of pet owners have delayed or avoided contacting their veterinary practice since the start of the pandemic, according to our survey of more than 3,000 pet owners across the US, UK, France and Brazil, citing concerns around exposure beyond social bubbles.
Positively, most owners (65 percent) say the pandemic did not make it harder to access medicines. However, there are concerns from vets about the remaining owners who haven’t been able to give their pet routine treatments such as flea, tick and worming products and keep vaccines up-to-date, due to the impact it could have on pet welfare.
2. Accelerated uptake of telemedicine tools
In the same way that many human health services have had to embrace digital health services, the pandemic has driven pet owners to emailing, texting and even video calling veterinarians on a scale never seen before.
The number of veterinarians offering digital or remote consultations increased 20 per cent as a result of the pandemic with almost half of veterinarians (47 percent) offering online services, according to pet owners.
This surge in interest and demand for online veterinary services is rapidly changing the pet care landscape. One UK service providing online pet consultations saw a 900 per cent increase in demand since lockdown.
Just last month (Nov 2020) the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE) published a position paper assessing the use of telemedicine in veterinary care. It highlighted how the adoption of digital health tools would increase access to veterinary services in remote locations and across geographies, deliver convenience to pet owners and provide them with a greater choice of veterinary services.
However, it recognized that widespread uptake post-pandemic will be a challenge until regulatory bodies provide clear guidance on remote consulting, remote diagnosis, remote prescribing and data use.
3. Highlighted One Health in Covid-19 response
Veterinarians have been essential in the global response to tackling Covid-19. Veterinarians have not only provided critical resources by diverting equipment and medicines to human health. They have also joined healthcare professionals in carrying out swab tests on people and helping public health teams in tracking the disease in humans. The outbreak has therefore triggered close consultation and information sharing between animal health and human health specialists.
The Pirbright Institute, which is dedicated to preventing and controlling zoonotic diseases that jump between animals and humans, assisted in the development of the Oxford University and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. The Zoonotic Anticipation and Preparedness Initiative (ZAPI) has contributed insights from its work on Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which is caused by a coronavirus, that are now being applied to COVID-19 research. And members of the UK’s One Health Poultry Hub have been advising the WHO.
The past few months have been far from easy for veterinarians across the world. At the time of writing, vaccines for Covid-19 are being approved, which may see a return to some normality before the outbreak, but we cannot forget the vital learnings this year has brought, so it will strengthen how we work next year and for many years ahead.