Technology has made getting quick access to medical care faster and more efficient than ever. The same is true for veterinary care. Advances in telemedicine are allowing vets to observe patients remotely—providing critical assessment, diagnostic, and treatment info via phone, Skype, FaceTime or other communication platforms.
Let’s take a quick look at how a virtual vet can help your pet get needed care, without the travel hassles of an in-person appointment.
How can I reach a virtual vet?
If you are a Figo Pet Insurance customer—you have free access to chat with a live veterinary professional via the Figo Pet Cloud mobile app. Whether your cat ate part of a plant or your dog is limping after jumping off the couch, anytime you have a pet medical question, simply open the app and click on Live Vet to chat.
While Figo's live vet professionals cannot prescribe medication, they're a great first step to help you decide whether or not your pet needs emergency care, or if they can wait for their next vet visit.
Virtual veterinary services are offered by a range of providers throughout the country. Sites like VetLive.com and PetCoach.co, for example, offer quick, online access to a licensed vet professional. Some of these services require you to download a free app and may require a subscription or per chat fee. Tip: You can also check your area to see which vets offer tele-vet services.
How should I prepare for a virtual vet appointment?
If you’re not addressing an emergency, you can take some time to prepare any support materials you may need to help make the most of your virtual vet appointment. Good info to have handy includes:
The nature of your pet’s current problem.
A brief medical history of your pet (past illnesses, injuries, inoculations, surgeries).
Any special needs or any potentially complicating issues your pet may have (such as diabetes, physical disability, etc.).
A list of any meds that your pet is currently taking.
Having this information handy can make it easier for the vet to take a complete history of your pet and to make a more thorough assessment of your animal’s current condition.
What types of treatments can virtual vets provide?
While telemedicine does take the place of in-person visits, it can greatly reduce stress on both patients and clients in many situations. Here are some examples of services provided by virtual veterinarians:
Quick evaluation. Virtual vets can gather a lot of information about your pet just by talking to you. The vet may also ask you to perform some basic physical exam techniques (for example, checking if your dog’s gums are pink or pale to rule out internal bleeding) to better define your pet’s overall health picture.
Non-Emergency care questions. Virtual vets can often address non-emergent health issues, such as parasite issues (fleas & ticks), dietary questions, mobility questions, and care questions regarding very young or senior pets.
Emergency questions.Virtual vets can be a real life-saver when it comes to addressing emergency concerns. For example, say you suspect that your pet may have eaten something potentially toxic, such as a chocolate. By asking a few simple questions, a vet may be able to determine whether your animal needs in-person emergency care or whether the animal can be monitored at home.
Follow-up care.Often, after an animal has undergone an in-person procedure, your vet will want to follow-up to see how your pet is recovering. These follow-up appointments can often be done remotely, without the hassle of wrapping up your recovering pet and driving to the vet.
Prescriptions and medication administration.Virtual vets can prescribe for some conditions without running a full bank of tests. Prescribing a flea preventative or renewing a prescription for an ongoing medication (like insulin) are much easier when you don’t have to spend time on an office visit. Keep in mind, this is not reflective of the service that our Live Vet access through the Pet Cloud and prescriptions will have to be obtained via your regular vet.
Can I ask an emergency question on a live consultation?
Yes, most veterinarians in telemedicine are qualified and able to address emergency questions (such as potential poisonings). Depending on your pet’s condition, the vet may ask that you take your pet to an emergency clinic for a more complete evaluation.
What are the benefits of using a virtual vet?
Virtual medicine is still growing and evolving, bur even now some clear benefits have emerged for veterinary practice.
Less traveling.If your nearest vet office or clinic is miles from home, in-person visits can be a hassle.
No waiting rooms.Waiting in a crowded vet’s office can stress some pets out, making a difficult time even harder. Virtual vets can evaluate your animal in the low-stress environment of its familiar surroundings.
Easier follow-ups and prescription refills. Some veterinary services (such as lab tests and surgery) require your pet to be in the vet’s office or clinic. Others don’t. Basic post-treatment follow-up, home monitoring, and prescription refill services are faster and hassle-free with virtual vets.
The Role of Telemedicine in Veterinary Practice
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has stated its commitment to supporting the safe and professional application of telemedicine principles in veterinary practice.
Right now, however, the AVMA believes that veterinary telemedicine should only be performed within the context of an existing veterinarian-client-patient relationship (or VCPR). Because a veterinarian must use keen evaluative skills and exceptional judgment to assess and treat an animal remotely, the AVMA believes that such interactions are safest when the vet is familiar with the animal being treated.
An existing VCPR also helps vet professionals and clients stay connected if follow-up or subsequent treatments are indicated. A VCPR also allows the vet to provide proper oversight and comprehensive treatment—continuity of care—from initial encounter to resolution of the case.
The AVMA remains opposed to non-emergency telemedicine in the absence of a VCPR, except when to consult with a specialist remotely (but the client must have a relationship with their local vet).
How is telemedicine being used in vet practice today?
Even with the VCPR rule, telemedicine has several current applications in veterinary practice. Some health issues that can be assessed remotely include:
Basic Triage (to determine whether your animal requires a visit to a vet)
Environmental Concerns (to determine if an environmental factor is causing or exacerbating a condition)
Transportation issues (to serve those who cannot conveniently reach a vet’s office)
In the above situations, vets are able to provide professional and informed guidance without the need for a hands-on visit. The benefits of telemedicine for a veterinary practice include:
Relieving the burden on vets by treating low-risk cases remotely.
Relieving transportation burden on clients who are far from a local vet.
Managing follow-up or long-term care without the need for repeated office visits.
The Future of Veterinary Telemedicine
Results from a recent survey by the Veterinary Innovation Council (VIC) show that over half of potential clients are still unaware that veterinary telemedicine is an option for them. As the discipline continues to evolve, awareness is expected to grow.
So where does veterinary telemedicine go from here? The two main drivers of change are likely to be: legislation that further defines and clarifies the parameters of veterinary telemedicine, and emerging technologies that redefine veterinary medicine and electronic communication. As laws and technologies change, it is likely that the role of veterinary telemedicine will expand.
Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.