Many veterinary clinics are using technology and innovation to maintain the standard of patient and customer care to meet social distancing guidelines brought about by the 2019 Coronavirus Disease Pandemic (COVID-19). According to telehealth expert Aaron Smiley, DVM, chief of staff of 2 Indiana Veterinary Clinics and past president of the Indiana Veterinary Medical Association, the initial appeal of telemedicine for promoting COVID-19 safety protocols has turned into a discussion of what veterinary medicine will look like in Future will be offered. During a recent Fetch dvm360® virtual conference, Smiley explained the benefits of telemedicine and gave tips on moving to paid virtual care.
“Telemedicine has been an integral part of the veterinary sector for more than a century. With increased public awareness and the use of telemedicine, we can monetize the professional service we have provided for so long, ”he said, adding that telemedicine has always been deeply integrated into veterinary medicine and veterinarians are very good at it . “We stayed in close communication with our customers and that has enabled us to offer telemedicine very effectively.”
When Smiley switched from free to paid telemedicine 5 years ago, he feared that it would be unpopular with customers. Fortunately, he received the opposite answer. “I came to find out [that clients] I love the service and am more than willing to pay for it, ”he said. Here’s why.
Better customer service
Telemedicine offers excellent customer service through simple and convenient communication with the doctor. Telemedicine offers customers who are short on time the opportunity to send photos, videos or texts with medical questions that can be appropriately assessed and answered by a professional. For example, Smiley explains that on routine spay and neuter appointments, a client can send a short video of the incision if there is a question about the healing of the suture line. Telemedicine offers a lot of security, as customers have the opportunity to contact the medical team and get advice on the next steps.
Still, Smiley recognizes the importance of physical medicine: “Telemedicine will never replace clinical care, but telemedicine, which is married to physical exams, dramatically improves the level of care,” he said.
Many veterinarians do not appreciate the distinction between asynchronous and synchronous telemedicine. Synchronous telemedicine is widely used by healthcare professionals, mainly due to the need for reimbursement of insurance costs, and involves live video calls between the doctor and the patient.
In veterinary medicine, it can be difficult to get the patient to show clinical signs during a scheduled phone appointment, which ultimately limits the level and standard of care provided. Asynchronous telemedicine, on the other hand, enables customers to send text messages, pictures or videos if this is convenient for them. The doctor, in turn, can review the messages and videos and respond as they wish. This offers the owner and veterinarian a lot of flexibility in the schedule and also revives the patient from having to “perform” when necessary.
“[Asynchronous telemedicine] is preferred by doctors and clients, and although I cannot communicate with patients, I like to think that it is preferred by them too, ”said Smiley.
Monitoring and diagnosis
Smiley identified various conditions in pets that can be successfully diagnosed via telemedicine, such as uncomplicated diarrhea or vomiting (the patient is bright and alert, the mucous membranes are pink and moist, and the owner has been feeding foods that they shouldn’t be fed in the past) ), uncomplicated otitis (a video with the flash on usually gives good visualization of the vertical ear canal), and flea infestation (a picture of caudal dorsal alopecia or a video of a flea crawling on a dog are hallmarks). He suggests making a list of diseases that you are currently diagnosing remotely to see which cases are best diagnosed via telemedicine. “Every veterinarian has a different list of diseases to diagnose remotely and the best guide is past clinical experience,” said Smiley.
Some of the conditions that can be easily monitored via telemedicine are diabetes, seizures, arthritis, heart failure, allergies, and deep pyoderma.
Convert your practice
Implementing a new routine takes time and can slow a clinic’s efficiency first before it accelerates. Smiley gave advice for a smooth transition. First, he recommends the use of telemedicine technology that allows the client to be connected to the entire medical team at the same time. Using the asynchronous exchange between receptionist, technician, and vet provides clarity for team members and can be more efficient than having the vet make callbacks or relay verbal instructions back and forth.
Next, make sure the technology notifies customers when the doctor or staff is unavailable for telemedicine consultations. This is vital as the customer knows how to remotely operate when a team member is absent.
Finally, understand how the technology integrates the virtual exam into medical records. According to Smiley, telemedicine technology doesn’t have to be fully integrated with your medical records software, but it does need to provide you with an easy way to keep telemedicine records in your clinic records.
What should be considered before the change?
Overall, Smiley says his experience was positive and encourages other veterinary practices to try it out. Before moving to paid virtual care, however, he points out two obstacles: the workflow in the clinic and the move from free to paid telemedicine.
“Paid telemedicine requires new clinical routines, and even the slightest change in routine can be confusing,” said Smiley. “Since most of us already offer free telemedicine, it pays to switch to paid telemedicine at short notice in order to receive better customer service and better patient care – and to reduce the risk of burnout.”