One of the effects of the COVID-19 global pandemic has been an increase in telehealth appointments in all areas of medical care. Although some medical doctors were offering limited telehealth options prior to the outbreak of the latest coronavirus, the practice of social distancing was directly responsible for a dramatic increase in health care providers who offer the service.
In human medicine, pediatricians, general practitioners, mental health care providers, and gynecologists have utilized telehealth appointments for post-care check-ins and issues that may not need a physical exam right away. Veterinarians are utilizing telehealth to help see patients without being in contact with their owners.
Veterinary Telehealth Basics
At the end of March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) temporarily changed their rules that state that veterinarians must physically examine animal patients prior to providing medical care. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many veterinarians can now offer telemedicine using technology like video conferencing or a video recording of the animal.
There are two ways for pet owners to participate in veterinary telemedicine. One is through video conferencing with your regular veterinarian. Some clinics use video conferencing along with curbside service (taking the dog or cat in the exam room while the owner waits in their car), and others offer limited veterinary telemedicine appointments without seeing the pet at all. The other telehealth veterinary care option is through paid mobile applications and websites that offer access to specific doctors.
When Veterinary Telehealth Is Appropriate?
Because animals cannot speak in words, veterinarians rely heavily on a physical exam, perhaps even more than a doctor treating a human. The human can tell a doctor where something hurts or what they are feeling, but a veterinarian must use other cues. Vets can gain invaluable information based on a pet’s body language and response to the exam. They can tell if moving a limb or flexing a joint causes discomfort.
Veterinary telemedicine appointments can be very handy in situations in which an issue arises after normal veterinary hours or on a day when the office is closed, and the owner is unsure of whether or not an issue requires regular vet care, emergency vet care, or if they can safely handle an issue on their own at home. Instead of rushing to the nearest emergency clinic only to find that the problem did not need to be seen right away, or worrying that they were not treating something that should have been an emergency, pet owners can get expert, specific guidance on their pet’s exact problem.
Virtual veterinary appointments can also be useful for follow-up appointments for some medical problems in which the doctor does not need to perform an additional exam. Instead of requiring the pet and owner to travel to the clinic, they can connect via video to get an update from the pet’s owner.
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Veterinary Telehealth and the RV Lifestyle
The ability to speak to your regular veterinarian remotely is helpful to RV owners should their pets become sick while they are traveling. They can get information on whether they should find a vet near their campsite or if their own vet can help them without seeing their pet. In some instances, the emergency veterinarian could consult with the pet’s regular doctor over a video to ensure that the pet’s full medical history is considered or that an ongoing problem is being treated correctly.
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Popular Veterinary Telemedicine Applications
There are several popular options for subscription-based veterinary telehealth appointments.
Vets Plus More is a subscription service that offers access to licensed veterinarians and trainers. Pet owners can find out if they should go to an emergency clinic, where the closest emergency clinic is, and answers to general non-emergency questions.
Vet Live is a website where pet owners can pay a per-instance fee to ask questions, get nutritional consultations, and obtain a second opinion on a diagnosis.
TelePAWS also offers the ability to access non-emergency information from experienced veterinarians. Pet owners can pay a monthly subscription fee or a one-time fee for each inquiry.
It is important to note that telehealth is not a viable option for a large majority of animal healthcare issues. Veterinarians rely on the ability to touch the animal, assess the animal’s disposition, take skin, bodily waste, and fluid samples and look at the cells under a microscope, take x-rays and perform ultrasounds, and perform other checks required to provide an accurate diagnosis. However, telemedicine is valuable for pet owners who are unsure of what step to take next and to ensure that the social distancing of humans is possible for these essential care providers and their clients.