While veterinary medicine is still far behind human medicine in terms of virtual health care, we’re quickly catching up.
More and more veterinary clinics are partnering with companies that help them provide veterinary telemedicine to their existing clients and patients. Many clinics and veterinarians are also developing their own procedure and protocols, with individual veterinarians innovating ways to make care more accessible.
These kinds of services allow you to connect directly with your regular vet over some type of telemedicine platform, usually hosted by the clinic.
Here’s what you need to know about veterinary telemedicine and how to prep for a virtual visit with your vet.
How Is Veterinary Telemedicine Different From Online Vet Telehealth or Teletriage Services?
The main difference is that with veterinary telemedicine, you are just booking a virtual appointment with your regular vet, and they can diagnose your pet and prescribe medications unless they need to do further in-person tests.
With online vet “teletriage” services, you are talking to a vet that has never seen your pet before. They serve to help you decide whether you need to take your pet to an emergency vet, or whether it can wait 24 hours or a few days until you can get an appointment. They can also answer general questions and give helpful tips and advice.
In a typical veterinary telemedicine appointment, you might book the appointment just like a regular visit and work directly with your own vet (or another veterinarian associated with your vet’s clinic). Video visits are most often used for this type of telemedicine, but calls and messaging may be used in some cases.
With this type of service, your vet has established a veterinary-client-patient relationship (VCPR) with you and your pet, and they have access to all of your pet’s medical records and history. This is why they can diagnose your pet and prescribe medication. It gets confusing because with people, you may have used a service where you had a virtual visit with a doctor that you’ve never been to, and they could prescribe a medication.
However, it is important to remember that a VCPR expires after a certain amount of time. For most states, this means that your pet must have been seen in-person at that veterinary clinic within the last 6 to 12 months.
For certain medical or behavioral conditions, your pet may require more frequent in-person visits for exams, or testing such as bloodwork or re-evaluation in order for your veterinarian to diagnose or prescribe anything via telemedicine.
Pros and Cons of Veterinary Telemedicine
VCPR is already established.
Veterinarians may diagnose and prescribe treatment for certain issues.
Veterinarians can follow up in-clinic if an in-person visit is needed.
May not need to leave home.
Pets may still need to come into the clinic if tests or treatments cannot be done at home.
This is only an option if your specific clinic is using telemedicine platforms, and if the patient is up to date on their physical exam and any other routine testing required for specific medical conditions or medication monitoring.
You will need to schedule ahead of time—telemedicine appointments with most vets aren’t available after-hours and weekends like online telehealth and teletriage vets.
When Can You Opt for a Virtual Vet Appointment?
Veterinary clinics that offer televet visits will likely have a clear definition of what can be diagnosed and prescribed during a telehealth visit versus what needs to be seen in person.
Some things that may be done virtually include:
Rechecking a skin infection or healing wound
Prescribing parasite preventatives or veterinary diets
Quality of life conversations
Veterinary telehealth does not replace in-person visits, but instead improves your pet’s access to care and your veterinarian’s ability to keep track of how they’re doing, and it’s more convenient. There will always be certain conditions that must be seen in person, and a video call does not replace a hands-on annual wellness visit.
How to Prepare for Your Virtual Vet Visit
To get the most from your virtual visit, a little preparation can go a long way. Use this checklist to make sure you’re ready.
Be Prepared for Questions
Your veterinarian will likely want to know how your pet is doing, including:
How they are eating/drinking
Whether they have a normal energy level
If they’ve had any vomiting or diarrhea
If you have noticed any behavioral changes
Whether your pet has had any recent changes in environment or routine
Any medications/supplements your pet is on
What diet and treats they receive
Also be prepared to answer questions about the concern you are calling about:
How long has the issue been going on?
Are any other pets or people in the household experiencing similar symptoms?
Can you think of any changes to food, environment, etc., that may have occurred just prior to the medical concern?
Be on Time and Set Aside Enough Time for the Appointment
Most telehealth appointments are available during business hours (some veterinarians may offer extended hours) and last between 15-30 minutes, although some conversations, such as behavioral consultations or end-of-life discussions, may last longer. Make sure to be at your phone or computer and prepared for the appointment 10-15 minutes ahead of time to ensure you can benefit from the entire length of the appointment.
Have Photos and Information Ready
Photos and videos of your pet’s skin, coughing, seizures, breathing issues, etc., are extremely helpful when your veterinarian is assessing what may be going on and how urgent it may be.
While a diagnosis via photo or video alone is often not possible, a video of a coughing dog may help determine the difference between collapsing trachea and reverse sneezing, and a video of a dog collapsing can tell us whether it is more likely to be a seizure or something like a syncopal (fainting) event due to heart disease.
If possible, have these photos and videos ready to go before your appointment, loaded on your computer or phone, whichever you plan to use to communicate with your veterinarian. Some telehealth platforms even have ways to upload any relevant photos or videos before your appointment, which is great at saving time!
Have any additional information on your pet’s health at hand. Keeping a journal of your pet’s habits and symptoms is very valuable, as it can be hard to remember the actual timeline during the call itself. Keeping track of timing on things like seizures, coughing episodes, or changes in behavior is also a great idea.
Finally, be prepared to know the names and doses of any food, supplements, and medications your pet is on, especially if they were not prescribed by your regular veterinarian. Gather any bottles of medication, shampoos, ear treatments, etc., so you can show your veterinarian and tell them the exact brand and dosing instructions.
Try These Tips for Camera-Shy Pets
Some pets are always ready for their close-ups, while others tend to be more shy when it’s time for their virtual visit. Have your pet ready in the room where you plan to have your appointment. Keep some yummy treats on hand to entice them to sit still, come toward the camera, and cooperate during the appointment.
Getting your pet used to being examined, regardless of their age, is extremely helpful for both virtual and in-person exams. Use lots of positive reinforcement to get your pet used to having their toes and nails touched, their ears lifted and looked in, their lips lifted and mouths opened, etc. Getting them used to trotting back and forth on a leash could pay off as well, especially if the concern is a lameness of some kind.
Featured image: iStock.com/svetikd