TrendWatch — What Is Veterinary Telemedicine?
Your furry friend can now receive care virtually, from anywhere.
Telehealth and telemedicine have grown in popularity significantly since the start of the pandemic. The convenience it brings to both patients and providers has awarded it a spot in the future of healthcare delivery. It only makes sense we’d want to give our furry friends the same quality of care.
Every month, OpenLoop does a TrendWatch on hot topics, trendy technology and industry news in telehealth and telemedicine. In this month’s TrendWatch, we’ll define what veterinary telemedicine is, the laws and regulations for its use, the role it has in livestock care and its future in telehealth.
What is veterinary telemedicine?
Twenty-three million American households adopted a pet during the pandemic according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). This increase in pet adoption means greater demand for veterinary care and services.
Similar to the provider shortages we see in our own healthcare system, veterinary hospitals and clinics are feeling the stress. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), appointments increased by 6.5% in 2021 and were expected to continue into 2022. As a result, some clinics and vets have turned toward telemedicine to help ease the burden while still keeping up with patients.
The AVMA breaks veterinary telehealth into five categories based on who is involved in the communication:
Pharmacy/Medicated feed distributor
Client within VCPR
Laws and regulations
Similar to virtual healthcare, the laws and regulations are on a state-by-state basis. Each state is equipped with its own veterinary practice act, so a good first step would be to contact your state veterinary licensing board.
The AVMA has also established a Policy on Telemedicine in order to help veterinarians understand the legal and regulatory requirements needed to deliver telemedicine services. Additionally, telemedicine may only be conducted within an existing veterinary-client-patient relationship (VCPR) with the exception for advice given in an emergency situation. This means, televets are not allowed to diagnose or prescribe medication if there is no prior VCPR. Often, you will have to get approval from your home veterinarian.
Veterinary telemedicine and large animal care
If you’ve ever watched shows like “The Incredible Dr. Pol”, they’re a great look into what rural and large animal veterinarians have to go through day-to-day. Being the only veterinary service for miles around means long distance calls and an overwhelming amount of patients with little staff.
While typical household pets are sure to find benefits from telemedicine, its future use in the livestock industry is where some serious interest is being shown. The cattle industry itself accounts for the largest share in total cash receipts for agricultural commodities. Keeping those animals healthy means better business for the farmers.
However, farmers typically live in rural, hard-to-reach areas that make veterinary visits more difficult and expensive. Investing in televet technology may increase access to preventative medicine and help with injury management. Additionally, telemedicine focused on livestock could minimize exposure to and the inadvertent transmission of contagious diseases among the livestock. Something every farmer is eager to avoid.
Some have already tapped into the concept. EveryPig, a televet company that seems to be making headlines in the industry, offering pig farmers telemedicine services. Their company focuses on:
Enabling veterinarians to serve dozens of farms simultaneously by telecommuting
Giving pig owners a wider access to quality animal care
Increasing farm biosecurity through faster disease identification and by reducing human traffic between farms
The future of veterinary telemedicine
The introduction of veterinary services to telemedicine is still fairly new. The requirement of a prior VCPR and the barriers that creates could slow down the adoption of telehealth moving forward. However, some are utilizing it to teach the next generation of telehealth vets. In late 2021, Faculty in the Iowa State University’s (ISU) College of Veterinary Medicine were laying the groundwork to teach students swine-medicine via telehealth.
They were given a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture for $240,000 to experiment with the technology. The grant allows veterinarians at the Swine Medicine Education Center (SMEC) to partner with livestock precision farming company Distynct and the VetNOW veterinary telehealth platform.
It led to a successful proof-of-concept when a student was able to draw blood successfully from a pig receiving remote instruction from a veterinarian via telehealth. Meredith Petersen, a postdoctoral research associate for SMEC, believes telehealth could even open up the door to more facilities for students down the road.
What this study shows is the future of veterinary telemedicine has options. It can be utilized to decrease burnout, increase access to animal care, operate as an educational platform and become a place where professionals can consult one another.
Powering telehealth innovation
Now’s as good a time as any to introduce OpenLoop! We’re a health tech leader delivering full stack, white-labeled clinical support to companies scaling virtual care services across the nation. Our company is always on the lookout for new innovations in the telehealth space in order to keep our clients on the cutting edge of their competitors.
Although we do not currently support televet services, it’s something we will continue to keep an eye on as it grows.
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