By: Dr. Lisa Killian, DVM.
Digital tools and telephony have been used for decades to access medical services in the human health space. Over the past ten years in particular, as smartphones and apps become more and more common, we’ve seen specialists focusing on specific areas of human health care from dermatology, to nutrition, and even urgent care advice.
As a result of COVID-19, veterinary practices have been forced to change the way they provide care for patients. Limited appointments are available as staff members stay home and clinics are only allowed to provide “essential services.” As much as families love their pets, many are reluctant to take their pet in for an exam unless there is an emergency. Even after things go back to normal, accessing veterinary services, or even just vet advice, near you will be challenging depending on the day, time, and nature of your question.
So, what’s a pet parent to do? Enter: telemedicine. If you’ve ever spoken to a doctor, nurse or human healthcare professional over the phone, SMS, website or app in the past for your own needs, you’ve used telemedicine, and it works the same for pets as it does for humans.
Researchers forecast that digital health consultations in human healthcare will surpass one billion in 2020 - the original forecast was only 40 million.
What is Telehealth or Telemedicine?
Telehealth is a broad term used to refer to the use of any type of digital technology to deliver health information, education or veterinary care remotely. For the veterinary field, telehealth includes a broad range of tools that veterinarians can use to enhance the delivery of care to animals.
Due to regulations, the level of care that can be delivered through telehealth is limited and varies by state. So, how do you know what is best for your pet, and whether it’s a good resource when seeking advice or guidance about your pet’s health? Here’s everything you need to know.
Telemedicine is when a veterinarian delivers care, diagnostics, treatments and/or client education through technology. Most state regulations require a veterinarian to have a pre-existing relationship with you and your pet before making a diagnosis, recommending specific treatment, or prescribing medication. That said, a veterinarian is able to provide advice to a pet in the event of an emergency, for instance if your pet has swallowed something dangerous (e.g. chocolate, chewing gum, ibuprofen).
As pet owners, we’ve all had moments when we’re worried about something regarding our pet’s health - with very little idea how serious it actually is. These issues seem to happen at the worst possible time, leaving you to decide how serious your pet’s ailment is, sometimes in the middle of the night, without any professional advice available. Should you rush to the emergency clinic? Should you wait until morning and go to your regular vet? Are you overreacting, or worse, not taking it seriously enough? Teletriage services can be used to assess the urgency of your pet’s conditions, and they’ll offer you advice to help make your pet more comfortable. Most importantly, teletriage provides you with the peace of mind in knowing what to do next.
To Use Or Not to Use?
Like telehealth for humans, telehealth for pets won’t work for every situation or condition. Here are a few instances when telehealth for your furry friend may be appropriate:
- Monitoring chronic conditions
- Acute vomiting or diarrhea
- Urinary tract infection (females ONLY)
- Acute limping
- Itchy skin, rashes
- Minor wounds or injuries
- Acute coughing or sneezing
- Minor eye discharge
In short, if your pet isn’t suffering from a medical emergency, telehealth is a viable option. Conversely, if your pet is experiencing any of the following, you’re better off going to a veterinary clinic as soon as possible:
- Unable to get up
- Bleeding that won’t stop
- Major injury (such after a car crash)
- Trying to urinate, but passing no urine
- Acute swelling of the face
- Hives on the body
- Severe difficulty breathing
When in doubt, the best course of action is to always get in touch with a vet. You wouldn’t take chances with your own health, don’t take chances when it comes to your pet.