Survey Says: Clients Love Connected Care. But Do Veterinarians?

Clients love telehealth/connected care. But do veterinarians? And what about the impact on pet health and welfare? From international research, answers are trickling in.

For veterinary practices, a key question is
how to charge for virtual care.

by Constance Hardesty, MSc

Does telehealth, or connected care, improve veterinarian-client communication? How satisfied are clients with remote consults? How often do veterinarians agree with telehealth recommendations? And what about the veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR)?

These kinds of questions will influence the future of virtual care, including telehealth and telemedicine. And researchers are beginning to supply some answers.

“In the research I’ve been involved with, people who have pets are open to alternative technology,” said Lori Kogan, PhD, professor of clinical sciences for the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University.

Kogan has authored, coauthored, or reviewed several studies that assess clients’ and veterinarians’ experiences and reactions to telehealth and telemedicine.

One study examined veterinarians’ perceptions of clients who conduct their own research on the internet. Most of the veterinarians, who practice in the United Kingdom, said their clients do search the internet for pet health information but feel they often don’t understand the information they find.

A separate project gathered feedback from clients who used a commercial telehealth platform staffed by experts. Researchers discovered that about 60% of clients who used the service were advised to follow up with their own veterinarians. Of that number, about 70% complied. The researchers suggested this indicates that clients use connected care to augment rather than replace the VCPR. These findings support Kogan’s earlier research that found clients report using the internet to supplement information they receive from their veterinarian, rather than replace it.

Interestingly, most clients who followed up with their veterinarians said their veterinarians agreed with the expert recommendations provided by the telehealth service.

A third study assessed clients’ responses to using telemedicine for postsurgical rechecks. This project, based in a tele-savvy practice in California, involved assigning clients to videoconferencing or in-person appointments for rechecks following their pets’ elective sterilization surgeries. Clients using telemedicine felt just as positive about their experience as did clients whose rechecks were performed in person. This finding supported the researchers’ hypothesis that telemedicine will find ready acceptance.

Though based on small samples and limited in scope, these three studies offer a snapshot of clients’ and veterinarians’ views of specific types of virtual care. Space constraints allow only brief overviews of the studies here. To access the full reports, see the Resources box below.
More research in animal welfare and financial management could be beneficial, Kogan said.

Research focused on animal welfare could provide solid evidence of whether or to what extent virtual care alleviates anxiety, fear, and stress associated with veterinary appointments. It could also establish how much connected care services (such as videoconferencing, texting, and telemonitoring) improve pet health by boosting compliance, especially in managing chronic illnesses.

For veterinary practices, a key question is how to charge for virtual care. “Preliminary research shows people are willing to pay for these services,” Kogan said. “So the next area I will be studying is how to make this doable for veterinarians.” Currently, she is helping to coordinate a pilot project that will assess payment models.

One possibility is a fee-based consultation to advise clients whether to bring their pet into the practice. Clients who are concerned about their pets’ health may be willing to pay to avoid the stress and inconvenience of an in-person appointment that turns out to be unnecessary.

There’s no doubt that the trend for tele-nearly-everything is rising with each generation, and that aging millennials, followed by Generation Z, will continue to drive that trend.

But consider this: 96% of all Americans have phones that can accept texts, and 86% of people under the age of 65 use phones that can also handle apps, including streaming video and telemonitoring. (For details, see the January 2020 issue of Trends.)

“People want to provide great care for their pets, and telemedicine can help them do it,” Kogan said. “The more we embrace that, the more we can do for pets’ welfare and the human-animal bond. I see so much potential in our ability to support people and pets.”

Resources

This article briefly summarized three samples of current research into how telehealth and telemedicine affect pet health and the veterinarian-client-patient relationship. The studies were chosen because they are recent, reflect different types of virtual care, and present both client and veterinarian perspectives.

Bishop, Greg T., Brian A. Evans, Krystal L. Kyle, and Lori R. Kogan. 2018. “Owner Satisfaction with Use of Videoconferencing for Recheck Examinations Following Routine Surgical Sterilization in Dogs.” JAVMA 253, no. 9 (November 1): 1151–1157. doi.org/10.2460/javma.253.9.1151.

Kogan, Lori R., James A. Oxley, Peter Hellyer, and Regina Schoenfeld-Tacher. 2017. “United Kingdom Veterinarians’ Perceptions of Clients’ Internet Use and the Perceived Impact on the Client-Vet Relationship.” Frontiers in Veterinary Science, October 19, 2017. doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2017.00180.

Roca, Rodrigo Y., and Robert J. McCarthy. 2019. “Impact of Telemedicine on the Traditional Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship.” Topics in Companion Animal Medicine 37 (December). doi.org/10.1016/j.tcam.2019.100359.

 

Constance Hardesty, MSc, writes on veterinary technology and trends.

 

Photo credits: ©iStock.com/SDI Productions

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