Telemedicine is Here to Stay – or it Should Be!

By: Debbie Boone, BS, CVPM – Originally published on VitusVet.com.

I know –

Every veterinary hospital I know has changed the typical in-clinic exam protocol to having clients wait in the car while the pet is cared for, then returned to the owner for a phone call discussion of the findings. Many practices are “duct taping “a telehealth process together with a combo of free apps like Zoom, Calendly & Pay Pal … I get it. I have been in vet med for 35 years and we LOVE free stuff. We are creative and inventive by nature when it comes to solutions. But telemedicine – or telehealth if you are in a state that limits what you can do on a telemedicine platform – should not be a temporary band aid for a temporary problem. Telemedicine should be the next thing you consistently offer your clients to satisfy their desire for convenience.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am a strong believer that there is NOTHING we do in veterinary medicine that is as important as the doctor laying hands on a patient for a through exam. I also answered the phone at my hospitals for many years and fielded thousands of questions with clients concerned enough to call because something was “off.” But many of those patients had minor issues my veterinarians managed with a FREE phone call. Hundreds of hours of doctor time – the most precious and expensive time in a practice – was donated to free work. Intellectual work is valuable and deserves compensation. Telemedicine helps us do just that. 

I am certain that when practices return to “normal” that there will be a continued issue with being short-staffed. Telemedicine allows us to highly leverage our licensed techs and our DVM staff by utilizing them for these virtual visits. 

Behaviorists have led the way on this platform. Dr. Sally Foote has been using telemedicine for over 4 years in her practice. She said she would have never been able to help many pets without seeing them in the home environment and observing exactly what the triggers were leading to negative behaviors. 

 I recall a very specific case when I was managing a mixed animal practice. “Steinway” a beautiful Thoroughbred cross was having slight facial seizures. Every time the doctors visited the farm, they found nothing because the seizures were random. Finally, the owner caught the event on her I-phone and sent the video to our doctors who immediately were able to diagnose the problem. The horse had EPM from grazing in a pasture contaminated with opossum feces. In this situation, telemedicine could do more than an in house or on farm exam could.  In today’s world we would have used a two-way text and video app like VitusVet to be able to share this without clients having my vet’s personal cell phone. We would have also been able to copy and paste the conversation into Steinway’s chart. 

 

The Moral to the Story is – use telemedicine where it is appropriate. 

 

In a recent pet owner survey, Diggo’s marketing research report, found that 73% of veterinary clients would consider visiting a Walmart practice for primary care. Only 22% of veterinary practice owners believed they would lose clients to these practices. This is a shocking number and shows how out of touch we may be as a profession to the desires of our clients. But, Diggo also discovered that the reasons people considered changing were very easy to fix for the wise practitioner. 

  • First, be price transparent. It astounded me when my staff was doing phone shopper calls for my clients, how difficult it was to get a simple price for a service. Why it became a “thing” to not give or post fees I do not know.  My hospitals always quoted common services with team members also giving shoppers education on the value. Pet owner fear of being unprepared for fees is a detriment to business. 
  • Second, communication and education. Since I have spent the last 14 years teaching veterinary teams how to do both, I won’t dwell on them. Still, we have got to stop rushing people in and out and talking over their heads and expecting them to say “yes” to services.
  • Third, convenience. People are already shopping at Walmart for food, drugs, eyeglasses, hair salons and banking. Adding a veterinary visit saves pet owners an additional trip. If we want to compete on convenience, then we add telemedicine because NOTHING is more convenient that not having to leave the house with your pet. Of course, proper scheduling in house to eliminate wait times, drop off services and even pickup and delivery can build our practice’s convenience factor. VitusVet’s stats show that most clients are texting in requests for medication refills on Sunday evening.  Practices without good tools for clients to use will lose these sales to online providers.  People are most motivated to act when they have something on their mind…delay that action because you are closed, and the client will find an alternate provider.   
Telemedicine should be the next thing you consistently offer your clients to satisfy their desire for convenience.
  • Fourth, assessable 24/7. Before you faint- I am talking about a teletriage service – not your team. Clients want someone to call to ask if they truly need to visit the ER and have that assurance that a visit is the right thing to do. There are several teletriage services available now to help your clients feel supported in your off hours. 

Telemedicine is coming – it is following the path of digital medical records, in-house lab testing, digital radiology, and cloud-based practice management software.  COVID 19 is compressing the adoption time frame but eventually we will all get there. Why not do it sooner than later and do it right? 

If you have questions or need help, please reach out.