Veterinary Telehealth

By Jenny Alonge, DVM, FFCP

Does it take an act of Congress to get your cat in their carrier when it’s time to go to the veterinarian? Does your canine friend quake with fear when they face a veterinary visit? Veterinary telehealth may help relieve your furry friend’s stress and anxiety, as well as provide several other benefits. However, you should first learn the ins and outs of veterinary telehealth, so you know what to expect.

Veterinary telehealth defined

Veterinary telehealth is defined as using technology to access remote veterinary care for your pet. Telehealth services can be divided into the following categories:

  • Teleadvice — Teleadvice includes general recommendations or educational information from veterinary professionals by phone, text, or online chat.
  • Teletriage — Teletriage involves a veterinary professional assessing your pet via text, telephone, or email to determine if they need veterinary care. The consultation is typically performed by a veterinary assistant or technician who can’t diagnose your pet, recommend treatment, or prescribe medication.
  • Telemedicine — In states that allow telemedicine, veterinarians can evaluate, diagnose, and treat your pet for some conditions via a phone call or video chat. For example, a vet may use video chat for a pet’s postoperative recheck. Telemedicine requires your pet to have an existing and current relationship with their veterinarian.
  • Teleconsulting — Your primary veterinarian can use teleconsulting to contact a veterinary specialist to get advice about your pet’s condition. For example, if your veterinarian is having trouble controlling your cat’s diabetes, they can phone or email a veterinary internist for advice on how to manage the case.

Will my doctor be able to prescribe medications after a telemedicine visit?

The laws surrounding telemedicine and pets differ from state to state, so there’s no one hard and fast answer as to what a veterinary team can or cannot do over a telemedicine appointment. The answer depends on where you live, whether or not you are already a regular client of the veterinarian, and the condition you are seeking treatment for.

Even in cases where prescribing is legally permissible, a provider may decide after gathering some information that your pet should be seen in person instead. In that case, the telemedicine visit can help ensure you and your pet are both prepared for what to expect.

Veterinary telehealth benefits

The ability to access veterinary care remotely has many benefits for veterinarians, pet owners, and pets. Here are some reasons this technology is expanding in the veterinary industry:

  • Emergency triage — If your pet experiences a veterinary emergency, the ability to contact a veterinarian immediately can save their life. Teletriage providers can instruct you on your pet’s care and stabilization until you can get to the nearest hospital. On the flip side, if the teletriage provider determines your pet’s condition isn’t an emergency, you will have peace of mind that you can wait to see your primary veterinarian during normal business hours.
  • Improved access to veterinary care — There are many reasons pet owners may not be able to take their four-legged friend to the veterinarian. Some have disabilities that make travel difficult, while others live in a rural area with no easy access to a veterinarian. In addition, some pets become so stressed during veterinary visits that the trip is unpleasant for them and their owner. The option to access a veterinarian remotely allows people in these situations to ensure their pet gets the care they need.
  • Easier assessment — Pets often act differently in the veterinary hospital than they do at home. There are so many interesting sites, smells, and sounds, and they may not show the concerning signs that led you to schedule the appointment. When your pet is in their home environment, your veterinarian can observe them in their natural state and evaluate them more easily.
  • Convenience — Your life is hectic and busy, and if you don’t have time to take your pet to the veterinary clinic for their post-op recheck, you likely can find time to video chat with your veterinarian about your pet’s recovery.
  • Earlier detection — Telemedicine allows you to easily contact your veterinarian with concerns or questions. Reaching out to your veterinarian about your pet’s subtle signs may help them detect a serious health problem in the early stages when management is easier.

As more pet parents request telehealth services, this technology will continue to improve and be more readily available. Not all veterinarians provide telehealth services, so ask about these options when searching for a new veterinarian or veterinary hospital.



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