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Opening the digital door: Connecting hospitals with patients in a time of social distancing

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Human healthcare providers are flocking to telemedicine to care for patients while maintaining social distancing during the COVID-19 crisis, and many veterinarians would like to do the same.

But veterinarians have been slower to embrace the digital care revolution due to longstanding federal and state board requirements that veterinarians have an established veterinarian client patient relationship (VCPR) before commencing digital care.

That roadblock changed last week when the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it’s temporarily relaxing its oversight of the VPCR, effectively allowing veterinarians to prescribe drugs based on a video examination. Predictably, the telemedicine marketplace has been flooded with veterinary telemedicine services, some rushing to market well before their platforms have been adequately tested.

In an effort to help AAHA-member practices negotiate the potentially confusing array of choices, NEWStat has been taking a look at some of those services in a series of articles about telemedicine tech.

PetPro Connect is a new all-in-one telemedicine platform from Boehringer Ingelheim (BI) designed to help practices easily share key pet health records, increase staff productivity, and connect with clients on their terms.

NEWStat spoke with Andrew Gillies, product manager for PetPlus Connect, about the service. He concedes that the BI connection has been a concern for some hospitals. “The questions we get is, ‘We don’t use any BI products. Can we still use PetPro?’” The answer: “Absolutely yes.”

“It’s an agnostic platform,” he adds. “Anyone can use it.”

Gillies has been working on platform since its inception two and a half years ago, and says they’d always intended to roll it out nationally this spring, but COVID-19 forced their hand: “We’ve been [testing it regionally] for the past year, but as a result of the national emergency we opened it up nationwide on March 13.”

PetPro Connect offers many features in addition to video connectivity, such as appointment requests, record sharing, and instant messaging. During the pilot phase, Gillies says, “A lot of clients were interested in video. They knew that at some point they would need to do it, but they weren’t ready to do it yet.” The PetPlus development team figured that the real need for a video platform in veterinary medicine was still about 12 to 18 months out.

Then came COVID-19 and the need for social distancing. Suddenly, videoconferencing is a must-have.

Gillies says the FDA’s VCPR announcement doesn’t affect how PetPro Connect can help hospitals because the software integrates directly into their practice management software: “So by default, only clients who already have a VPCR with you will be able to use the app. We very much stand behind and support the VCPR regulations.”

Gillies stresses that this isn’t a triage service: “We strictly connect the veterinarian with their client. If they can’t get a hold of their veterinarian, we’re not sending them to somebody else.”

He describes the app as a “digital front door” to connect hospitals with their clients.

And right now, opening that door is free for hospitals and clients alike. “Typically we charge a 5% transaction fee,” Gillies says, “But in light of COVID-19, we’re completely waving that. So 100% of the fees (minus the credit card processing fee) that come through PetPro will go directly to the veterinarian.”

Find more about PetPro Connect here.

Photo credit: © iStock/verbaska_studio