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AAHA and AVMA join forces to help hospitals incorporate telehealth in daily practice

This month, AAHA and the AVMA released the 2021 AAHA/AVMA Telehealth Guidelines for Small-Animal Practice, a step-by-step roadmap for how to incorporate telehealth effectively and efficiently into veterinary practices.

The new guidelines are 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. Connected Care includes client communication tools as well as the use of artificial intelligence to support diagnostic decisions and remote monitoring to provide more real-time information about veterinary patients.

These jointly produced guidelines are designed to supplement the AVMA’s overarching telehealth guidelines for the veterinary profession released earlier this month, which provide a clear path for implementing and optimizing the use of telehealth and planning recommendations for launching the service.

The timing is perfect: The pandemic accelerated consumer demand for telehealth services and revealed new opportunities to leverage the training and skills of all members of the veterinary team more fully in the delivery of great patient care and client service.

“During the pandemic, a survey of companion-animal practices reported a strong increase in the use of telehealth, from 10% to 30%,” said AVMA President Douglas Kratt, DVM. “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. These guidelines will help small-animal practices adopt telehealth in ways that make sense for their staff, clients, and patients.”

They also help clear up any lingering confusion as to just what telehealth is.

“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.”

AAHA’s Veterinary Content Strategist and AAHA/AVMA Telehealth Guidelines Task Force member Jessica Vogelsang, DVM, CVJ, told NEWStat she’s particularly excited about how actionable they are in helping hospitals incorporate Connected Care: “A lot of times, you’ll hear one person talk about how they utilized Connected Care in their specific practice in a way that sounds really cool, but if you have a different setup that might not work for you. The task force was able to combine eight perspectives from practice, industry, and academia to provide a seven-step process that can be applied to any practice.”

The guidelines are included with the February 2021 issue of Trends magazine, and AVMA members with a small-animal practice focus will receive a complimentary printed copy with their February 15, 2021, issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Association.

In addition to the printed booklet, the guidelines include supplementary resources such as a quick-reference list of common telehealth terminology.

Confusion about what is and isn’t allowed in the practice of veterinary telehealth from a regulatory perspective has been a stumbling block for many, Vogelsang said, and the guidelines help clear up that confusion: 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. (Be sure to contact your state board of veterinary medicine for information about state-level VCPR requirements.)

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.