Does telemedicine work in the veterinary field?

Q: My doctor’s office provides telemedicine consults where I can talk to a doctor without going into their office. Is that becoming a service that veterinarians might offer in the future?

A: The pandemic caused all of us to drastically change how we go about living our lives. Some of those changes have become permanent, including the surge of telemedicine use within the human medical field.

This service allows you to have a contactless appointment with a doctor and receive medical advice from the comfort of your home. This was a fantastic tool during the pandemic because you could receive medical care without the risk of exposure to COVID-19. It has continued to be an excellent tool for situations where it may be challenging for someone to get to a doctor or for basic health issues.

During the pandemic, the veterinary community also attempted to integrate telemedicine into their daily routines to try and help provide the same service to their clients. However, it did not take off in the same way it did in human medicine, and there has been much discussion as to why and whether it may ever be a service that will be beneficial to animal owners.

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There are many reasons why telemedicine can be challenging in veterinary medicine; the most glaring issue is that animals cannot talk. In human medicine, a dialogue between the doctor and the patient is vital to diagnosing and treating medical issues.

Of course, veterinarians rely on our human clients’ observations of their animals, but we also rely heavily on our physical examinations of the animals to diagnose the illness or injury. Diagnosing and treating complicated medical issues can be challenging, if not impossible, without examining an animal thoroughly in person. This task is impossible via telemedicine.

The second issue affecting our usage of telemedicine is that there needs to be one telemedicine platform for veterinarians to use that can assist with the unique issues we deal with when treating animals.

Several veterinary telemedicine startup companies were formed during the pandemic. Still, none of them were very user-friendly, and they caused more stress and work for the veterinary staff.

It became apparent that it was also stressful for the owners to get their animals in the camera frame for the appointments. Visually observing the animal is an essential part of any veterinary appointment, and getting an animal to comply with standing in front of a computer when asked can be an almost impossible task. Getting an animal to comply with an exam in person can sometimes take two or three people, so asking a client to perform this task at home is unreasonable.

The third issue the veterinary community battled with during the pandemic was that all veterinary clinics across the country were overwhelmed by the number of animals they had to treat. Most clinics were trying to keep their heads above water with the urgent cases coming in the door to the point that implementing another tool that would bring more work for their veterinary staff was not even an option.

Telemedicine has the potential to be helpful in veterinary medicine in the future; however, there has to be a collective discussion as to when and why we would use it. Additionally, the platform we would all utilize must support the unique challenges we face in veterinary medicine.

Q: If you could tell all your clients just one piece of advice that you felt was the most important for their pets’ longevity, what would it be?

A: If you knew me, you would know the answer to that question! No matter the species, no matter the ability, some form of daily physical activity, every single day, is the answer to increasing life expectancy!

dr Julianne Miller is a Flagstaff veterinarian. You can be reached at

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