On 16th March 2020 our prime minister announced, “now is the time for everyone to stop non-essential contact and travel”. Overnight veterinary practices had to continue as an essential line of work whilst following the guidance.
This meant, only emergency appointments and surgeries, no more check-ups and general well being appointments, but what if you were not ready..? The truth is, no one was ready.
Within days, any business that operated ‘behind the times’ with technology, suddenly had a reality check. This was even hard for those who considered themselves to be flexible had a hard time adapting.
Veterinary practices were no different. And the way that many of you work was turned upside down, with clients no longer allowed into the practice, non-urgent treatment banned, and appointments cancelled across the board.
So just like that, vets everywhere had to come up to speed fully, embracing technology as a necessity, and telemedicine was the gateway that allowed them to do this.
What is Telemedicine and how does it work?
To put telemedicine simply; you need to check in on Glitter, a Pomeranian who you saw last week over a video chat with Glitter’s owner, you offered your expertise on Glitter’s hair loss and this week you want to check-in, which you do again via video, it’s as simple as that, this is telemedicine.
We have listed just some of the telemedicine platforms available below, again its important before you choose which platform to go ahead with, that you understand what your practice needs are from the start as well as understanding where you would like to go with telemedicine as a practice.
- CGM ELVI
- PetPro Connect
There are many more platforms out there, each offering a multitude of services, so do your research to get the most from your telemedicine platform for your practice. If you need some help then download our Telemedicine Comparison Guide, where we compare the feature of all the above platforms.
On one of our recent episodes of our Modern Veterinary Practice Podcast we spoke with Founder and CEO of VetHelpDirect Susie Samuel about all things digital innovation and what she feels the future of Tele-consults looks like in a post-Covid world.
Accompanied with some humorous experiences herself and her team had faced, its light-hearted and gives a real insight into how telemedicine will go forward and be the new normal.
Susie gave insight into having scheduled appointments over video calls and having seen more of the pet owner’s anatomy than the pets, and even the issues of pets disappearing around the house or garden and can’t be found in time for the consultation. Here you can listen to the full interview with Susie.
The benefits of Telemedicine
Today every pet owner in both geographically and economically hard-to reach areas can access pet care for their beloved pets as easily and accessibly as those who live next door to a veterinary practice.
Further allowing more accurate triaging in emergency cases, easy access to specialists and for vets to be able to assess symptoms as they happen, which is especially useful as this may not be the case in a normal consult room. Often our pets are not themselves when they’re out of their normal surrounding’s, very much like us, some people are afraid of going to the doctor or dentist, our pets have the same worries and when our pets are not their normal selves, diagnosis can prove to be difficult.
They may have a more timid stance, they may walk with their head lowered and be shy and all of these things open up the possibility of missed diagnosis which isn’t the case when a pet is in its normal surroundings, this allows the vet to observe the pet without any additional worry or out of the norm behaviour.
By using telemedicine allows vets and practice staff to have more available time, they are able to see more patients whilst also being able to have access to more patients, your clients no longer have to worry about travel distance or public transport.
As vets you no longer have to depend on pet owners to be on time for their appointments, and pet owners no longer need to worry about scheduling extra time in order to commute to a consultation with you.
There are other factors, we touched on accessibility for everyone but also this allows accessibility for older or less able pet owners to reach healthcare for their pet. They may struggle to carry a cat carrier, or perhaps their pet gets anxious about being in a waiting room with other pets alike, the use of telemedicine alleviates these issues and puts everyone on the same level.
Some pet owners may be put off from calling their veterinary practice at first instance when their pet is showing signs of not being themselves, but the pet owner does not believe they are in any kind of pain, simply due to not wanting to waste your time as their vet. This could end up doing more harm than good and in return cause further health issues which otherwise could have been avoided.
Now the owners can be at ease, they don’t need to worry about possibly wasting your time and instead can be reassured by video consultations that their pet is either not in pain and will be ok or they will be seen to accordingly, both outcomes haven’t wasted your time and it’s alleviated this pressure and worry from the pet owner.
Difficulties with Telemedicine
When our pet owners bring their pets to our veterinary practice, we have the opportunity for in person conversation, it is more meaningful, we also have the opportunity of getting to know an individual as the time feels less scheduled and to the point. When using a video chat, a sense of humour or real personality is sometimes hard to gage, we also don’t have the opportunity of upselling.
Upselling those all-important products or toys which are displayed usually nearby our reception desks where customers can be recommended an item or might grab something to give it a try. The latest treats or toy, or food, these opportunities are no longer there. However, if this is the future of veterinary practices it does not mean it’s the end of additional sales, it may just be the beginning.
If you have just come off a video consultation with a pet owner and you’ve recommended a particular chew toy or distraction toy for a puppy, this could be provided via a link during the call or straight after where the pet owner can purchase this at the click of a button and have it posted straight to them.
What is next for Veterinary Telemedicine
The way that telemedicine has had to be used since Covid-19 has meant all vets are on a level playing field, so it gives your practice the chance to go above and beyond for your clients and their pets.
As we slowly gain back what we know as normal, it doesn’t mean that all of the progress and time saved is lost as you slip back to old ways.
Instead, think about the things that have really worked for your practice by adapting to these new ways of being a vet and go from there.
If your clientele prefers, having consultations over a video call or checking in with an instant message, why get rid of it?
Have you found that you have built stronger relationships perhaps with younger pet owners who are more tech savvy because this style of care works for them, and without this change you wouldn’t have been able to form that relationship?
Even before Covid-19 turned lives and businesses upside down, we have a way of living and communicating where we are meeting with a friend one minute for a catch up over a coffee, replying to a work email whilst sipping on said coffee, calling a loved one to check in and shopping online for a new item that’s all the rage which has popped up on our Facebook or Instagram news feed. Why should our veterinary practice be any different?
Practices can cut down on overheads by minimising waiting room space, storage space for stock and freeing up the time of all staff and colleagues as receptionists can now be adaptable and expand on their job role.
Overall better pet health can also be a benefit, as your pet owners no longer need to fit a vet visit into their already busy schedule, pay for transport or parking or even arrange childcare whilst stopping the spread of Covid-19 which is still very much apparent in all our lives.
Telemedicine allows for more access to pet healthcare and in turn this should result in overall better pet health and quality of life for pets.
Telemedicine puts all pet owners on a level platform, allowing them to access their veterinary practice anytime and anywhere, they have flexibility which in turn allows your practice to have more flexibility and more available time, resulting in more consultations each day.
You no longer have to deal with that pet owner being half an hour late as their cat’s gone to get a second serving of whiskers from a nearby neighbour or won’t get into their cat carrier.
Telemedicine isn’t just designed to make your clients lives easier, it’s will help make the most of your practice staff’s time, and allows for your practice to fully work as a team. Everything is streamlined, saving valuable time and energy.