Vets quickly get on board with telemedicine during pandemic

The Veterinary Telemedicine Association was coming up on its third year when the coronavirus pandemic drastically changed medical care. Now, membership is more than 3,000 in the online Facebook group—renamed the Veterinary Telemedicine Community—which had barely two members for most of the time since its founding in April 2018.

“Veterinarians looked at telemedicine as a novelty before this,” said Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, the group’s founder. “Now it’s become a necessity.”

“Before COVID, telemedicine was one of those things that veterinarians were somewhat interested in,” said Dr. Lori Teller, a clinical associate professor of telehealth at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “The thinking was akin to, ‘I’ll get around to it.’ Now it’s, ‘I need to do this yesterday.'”

Teller began doing webinars for veterinary associations during the pandemic, averaging as many as three a week, R. Scott Nolen writes for the AVMA. She’s also consulting with veterinary academic institutions that are trying to build up their own telehealth programs.

Still, Teller cautioned that practice managers have to be strategic in how they implement their telehealth care. “You need to figure out how telemedicine fits into your practice’s workflow,” she said, “and that means making sure your customer service representatives use the appropriate verbiage when speaking to clients about taking advantage of a virtual visit.

“For technicians, they may be onscreen teaching a client about nutrition for a new puppy or getting a new kitten to use a scratching post. For veterinarians, they can livestream a patient exam for an owner who can watch remotely as the veterinarian draws blood or gives the pet a vaccination.

“And then, of course, all the documentation and billing that go along with practicing veterinary medicine, whether you’re doing it in person or virtually.”

And while some critics are skeptical of telemedicine’s potential to serve pets effectively, Vogelsang said it can be useful as long as it’s used appropriately. “You just need to have a very clear understanding of what telemedicine can and cannot do,” she said.

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