Veterinary Telehealth: Understanding the Nuances

The post-covid world has seen people getting accustomed to “a new normal.” One such phenomenon that has been normalized is the increasing use of technology for virtual meets.

Telehealth refers to the use of technology to seek medical help and information. It allows people to access healthcare remotely.

Veterinary telehealth is the same as regular telehealth but for your furry friends! There are now many different terms being used within the context of telehealth. While these words are closely related, they certainly do not share the same meaning.

We will describe what veterinary telehealth entails, its challenges, and its advantages. We will also distinguish the other terms often confused with what telehealth broadly means.

Veterinary Telehealth

Telehealth

While telehealth was not a novel concept, it gained popularity during the pandemic. Telehealth is an all-inclusive title that signifies the virtual relaying of healthcare and medical information. Veterinary telehealth emerges from the same concept and involves delivering medical guidance and care.

Under the title of telehealth fall different classifications corresponding to the various ways telehealth is accessed. Below, we have listed these related categories and described what each means in the context of veterinary telehealth.

  • Telemedicine
  • Teletriage
  • Teleadvice
  • Teleconsulting
  • Telemonitoring
  • E-prescription

Telemedicine

Most commonly confused as telehealth, telemedicine involves a licensed veterinarian practicing virtually and delivering healthcare to their clients. This has been revolutionary as it allows you to access medical information from a professional remotely.

You can virtually connect with your vet for guidance and regular check-ups. For instance, you can set up a Zoom call with your cat’s vet in a non-emergency situation and let the vet monitor your cat through video.

Telemedicine ensures better communication and allows for prompt diagnosis, monitoring, and delivery of medical information. However, this type of telehealth requires a Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship (VCPR) to be established. Let’s learn more about it.

What is VCPR?

Enforced by law in most states, a Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship is an important and necessary step for your pet’s well-being. A VCPR is initiated when a vet physically examines your pet, and then you continue to seek help from the same vet who would know your pet well enough and have all its medical records.

Whether VCPR can be developed solely online or require an in-person examination depends on the state you’re living in.

Some states consider an electronically established VCPR as valid. However, even in those states, the pet’s physical examination is still required for specific medications. Once established, you can maintain the relationship remotely with regular check-ups and consultations. However, you may still need to visit the clinic if the vet considers it appropriate.

Teletriage

This setting involves remotely consulting a professional vet, especially in circumstances where you are unable to get in touch with your regular vet. In this case, your vet will virtually examine your pet and then give you an appropriate judgment about whether your pet needs to be taken to a clinic or not. This does not require a VCPR, so that any licensed veterinarian can help you.

Teletriage works great if you are looking for urgent answers regarding your pet’s condition and are unsure about making a trip to a veterinarian clinic.

Teleadvice

It is also common to confuse teleadvice with teletriage. While the latter focuses on guidance and assessing the urgency of a situation by examining a specific patient, teleadvice is concerned with offering broader wellness directions. For example, teleadvice may refer to general preventative recommendations about keeping your dog hydrated.

This does not require a VCPR to be in place.

Teleconsulting

Teleconsulting does not involve interaction between pet owners and veterinarians. It implies consultation between vets and specialists to discuss medical information and seek guidance.

Telemonitoring

Telemonitoring also uses technology to aid animals’ general health and wellness. This helps greatly in scenarios where you’re far from your regular vet. Health monitoring devices help gather useful information which can be relayed to a professional that can help your pet if needed. Examples include checking for temperature, examining vital signs, or monitoring glucose levels.

E-prescription

E-prescription concerns the electronic prescribing of medicines by a professional veterinarian. Depending on the state and federal laws, a vet may decide to electronically prescribe and share information about appropriate medications, where necessary.

While veterinary telehealth is not meant to be a permanent transition from in-person to remote consultations, it is definitely a relief in multiple ways! However, with its great many benefits, there are also some challenges.  Let’s take a look at these below:

Benefits of Veterinary Telehealth

The all-encompassing concept of veterinary telehealth, including telemedicine, teletriage, and tele advice, has significantly changed the healthcare industry. It is now not only more easily accessible but has also proved to be more pocket-friendly. Let’s take a look at the different advantages of veterinary telehealth.

  • Affordable: Telemedicine costs are lower than visits to the vet’s clinic, especially if you do not have health insurance. This greatly reduces the financial barriers to caring for your pet. You also save up on fuel and other costs that you would normally incur if you had to make the trip to the clinic.
  • Convenient: Even if you are far from your pet’s veterinary clinic or need help in the middle of the night, whatever the circumstances may be,  you can still get medical advice and get your pet virtually examined. This easy access to healthcare adds to the importance of telehealth.
  • Time-saving: We know your pet’s health is your priority. However, time can still be a great constraint. With telehealth, you can keep a check on your pet’s wellness without worrying about your busy schedule.
  • Reduced stress: Many pets dread their visits to the vet clinic. Eliminating the frequency of those visits while keeping your pet’s health in check is a bonus! The familiar environment of their home can lower your furry friend’s anxiety while a vet performs a virtual examination.

These advantages have led to the widespread use of telehealth, assisting people and their pets globally.

Now let’s take a look at the other side of telehealth.

Challenges of Telehealth

  • Diagnosis is more difficult: It is possible to analyze a patient’s condition through videos and pictures remotely. However, limitations arise in cases where in-person examination or any samples must be taken for diagnosis.
  • Difficult to assess emergencies: While a licensed vet can analyze your pet’s condition visually, some cases may be more difficult than others. This reliance on the visual medium may make it difficult to tell whether it’s an urgent-care situation.

You can also consult a vet online for non-emergency cases using PetMyPal. Chat with a licensed vet from the comfort of your home for a minimal fee.  Download PetMyPal today.

It is important to understand that veterinary telehealth can be a great tool in making healthcare easily accessible for your pet. Nevertheless, it should not be considered a replacement for in-person visits to the veterinary clinic.

Sophia Daniels
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