Embracing Connected Care


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AVMA, AAHA partner on telehealth guidelines for small animal practices. 

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recently released the 2021 AAHA/AVMA Telehealth Guidelines for Small-Animal Practice, a how-to guide for empowering the whole veterinary team to embrace Connected Care, which utilizes digital technologies to enhance and support veterinarians’ relationships with their clients and care for their patients through improved communication, diagnosis, and patient monitoring. It includes client communication tools, as well as the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to support diagnostic decisions and remote monitoring to provide more real-time information about how veterinary patients are doing.

The AAHA/AVMA Telehealth Guidelines for Small-Animal Practice are designed to supplement the AVMA’s overarching telehealth guidelines for the veterinary profession released earlier this year.

According to the associations, COVID-19 accelerated consumer demand for telehealth services. It revealed new opportunities to more fully leverage the training and skills of all veterinary team members in the delivery of great patient care and client service.

“Our profession has been making much progress in seeing wider adoption of technology, especially during the pandemic, and the new AAHA and AVMA guidelines will help practices successfully integrate telehealth into their daily operations,” said AAHA Deputy CEO Janice L. Trumpeter, DVM. “When done right, Connected Care is an opportunity to more fully engage and utilize the skill sets of veterinary staff members while increasing attention to customer service and ensuring that we continue to deliver high-quality medical care.”

“During the pandemic, a survey of companion animal practices reported a strong increase in the use of telehealth, from 10% to 30%,” said Dr. Douglas Kratt, AVMA president. “Telehealth has supported better and more timely communication with our clients during a time when maintaining physical distance has been critical to their health and the health of the staff in our practices. Beyond this immediate need, our experience with telehealth has given us insight into the opportunities remote technologies present for integrating AI into our diagnostic workups and ongoing monitoring of our patients, which ultimately will support more timely intervention when their health is challenged. These guidelines will help small-animal practices adopt telehealth in ways that make sense for their staff, clients, and patients.”

These guidelines’ key focus is the practical integration of telehealth into practice operations by identifying and utilizing telehealth “champions,” streamlining workflow, and successfully monetizing its use. Additional topics include considerations for device and platform selection, workspace, internal and external marketing strategies, and projections on how the thoughtful adoption of technology will continue to enhance veterinary care.

Components of telehealth in small-animal practice

Infographic showing connected care components

In addition to the printed booklet, which is available for download, the guidelines include supplementary resources such as a quick reference sheet of common telehealth terminology. Veterinarians must follow both state and federal requirements for establishing and maintaining a veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) when using telehealth to deliver veterinary services. Considerations around the VCPR are discussed in more detail in the AVMA Guidelines for the Use of Telehealth in Veterinary Practice.

“Every patient-centered phone call, email, and text is telehealth – so many veterinary practices don’t realize they are already doing it,” said AAHA Chief Medical Officer Heather Loenser, DVM. “These guidelines provide a framework and share some practical steps to use these technologies more efficiently and effectively.”

“There are many services that veterinary practices provide daily that lend themselves well to the use of telehealth, such as post-surgical rechecks, hospice care, client education, after-hours triage, and remote patient monitoring, to name a few,” said Dr. Gail Golab, AVMA’s chief veterinary officer. “Main goals for the adoption of telehealth include improving care for your patients, increasing access to your expert advice and services, and better and more efficient use of the entire veterinary team’s training and skills.”

Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health USA Inc., CareCredit, and Merck Animal Health supported the development of the 2021 AAHA/AVMA Telehealth Guidelines for Small-Animal Practice and resources through an educational grant to AAHA.

The guidelines also are available online at avma.org/telehealth and aaha.org/telehealth.

Examples of when telehealth might be used

When clients call to ask for advice, and you determine that an in-person visit is not required, consider offering a telehealth consult to allow the client the chance to interact with the doctor and resolve any concerns they may have about their pet.

When tech-savvy clients express interest in wearable tech for their pets, ask how you might help them interpret the data.

When considering a specialist consult, offer clients a three-way teleconsult between them, you, and the specialist.

Ask your diagnostic service providers if they are utilizing artificial intelligence (AI). Offer to send them data (with appropriate security protections) to feed into their AI systems to help make them “smarter” and clinically useful.

When pets have hospital stays (dentals, surgery, boarding), have your team text clients frequent status updates, so they know how their pet is doing. When your veterinary health care team delivers a specialized service, consider making those paid services and determine which ones might be facilitated as a telehealth service.

When scheduling follow-up assessments, consider whether a paid video consult would be appropriate and offer that to clients as a convenient means to continuity of care.

Source: “2021 AAHA/AVMA Telehealth Guidelines for Small-Animal Practice”

Photo credit: istockphoto.com/Natalia Varlamova