22 Apr 2020 By: Shelby Shaffer
Image from Cosmopolitan, UK Instagram
You may consider yourself lucky if you’re quarantined with your pets. But do your pets feel the same way?! Suddenly, we’re spending all day with them. We’re interrupting their naps, increasing their snack intake, and judging them for sleeping all day – poor things!
But in all seriousness, the mandated COVID-19 quarantine has changed the dynamics of our relationships with our pets. Everything, from more daily walks to crashing mom and dad’s zoom calls, had changed. The way we take our four-legged friends to the vet changed, too.
Tilly is my pride and joy. I rescued her when she was just over a year old. She was found with her littermates, abandoned in a dirt patch in West Philadelphia. As I work from home these days, Tilly gets, believe it or not, even more spoiled than she was before the mandated quarantine (and I’m pretty sure she LOVES it).
Image: Tilly and her friend, Vincent
Because of her breed and medical history, Tilly is super prone to ear infections, so it isn’t hard for me to recognize the signs early on and get her to our vet for meds. Thanks to the current COVID-19 crisis, however, getting her to the vet last week when I noticed her irritation was not an easy task.
Because of social distancing, vet visits (at least at my awsome vet, shout out to Pennridge Animal Hospital!) are conducted differently than normal. The hospital’s staff asked me to stay in the car while a vet tech took Tilly in to see the doctor. The doctor then called me on the phone to walk through what she was doing, confirm my suspicions, and prescribe the necessary antibiotics for her ear infection.
During this whole process, I couldn’t help but think, “There’s got to be an easier way”
My next thought was… “Why not telemedicine for vets?”
Telehealth and Telemedicine
So what are telehealth and telemedicine?
Telehealth is the overarching term that encompasses all uses of technology to deliver health information, education or care remotely.
Telemedicine is a subcategory of telehealth that involves the use of a tool to exchange medical information electronically from one site to another to improve a patient’s clinical health status
Think of it as a new age house call. Before the 1970s, doctors would make house calls to patients’ residences, risking their own health, and the health of other patients they may see that day. But today, thanks to modern technology, doctors can make “house calls” virtually.
“While telemedicine for humans has been around for about 40 years, it’s only in the last five years that it’s been growing more popular,” says Jonathan Linkous, head of the American Telemedicine Association. But for veterinarians, telehealth and telemedicine are still relatively new.
About 20% of Americans live in rural areas without easy access to primary care or specialist medical services, including veterinary services. Veterinary telemedicine alleviates the worry or stress pet owners carry because of a lack of accessible healthcare services.
Having the ability to talk with a vet about the “non-emergency” topics can be easier with telemedicine. The practice encourages vets to use tools like video calling or live chat so patients have better access to information that doesn’t always require a visit.
The use of telemedicine for vets can include general wellness care, after-hours care, post-surgical care, or hospice care. But it doesn’t always have to be for serious situations. What if a pet owner has a question about grain-free food? Or what if my dog is displaying signs of having allergies, what can I give him or her? Telemedicine allows owners to have their questions answered without spending the time it takes to schedule an appointment.
New Technologies for Veterinary Telemedicine
Across all medical fields, veterinary included, telehealth and telemedicine are improving doctor/patient relationships, decreasing patient wait time, and increasing revenue for doctors. In fact, healthcare executives ranked improving the quality of care as their top reason for implementing telemedicine, and another 18% were most excited about reaching new patients (Foley & Lardner, LLP). Additionally, when asked what the top benefit of telemedicine was, about 19% of surveyed health system respondents said it was the ability to provide round-the-clock care, and about 18.4% said it was the ability to provide remote consultations to patients (eVisit)
Dr. Mia Cary, Chief Collaboration Officer and Executive Director of the Veterinary Innovation Council, and Dr. Aaron Massecar, of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M and the Department of Philosophy at the University of Guelph, sited two opportunities for the future of veterinary healthcare: (1) further clarifying legislation and implementation and (2) incorporating new technologies (Today’s Veterinary Practice).
The new technologies in veterinary telemedicine will allow us to visit our vets less frequently. A regular stream of 24/7 360° data will help to provide better insights into our pets’ health so in-person visits are limited to essential or emergency visits.
Veterinary Live Chat Communication
Having a live chat patient support portal on veterinary websites allow pet owners to ask questions 24/7. That means no matter what happens, pet owners will be able to chat with an expert about their pet.
Digitally Connected Litter Boxes
AI-powered litter boxes can send pet owners and vets notifications only if there is a change in your cat’s behavior. For example, LuluPet has the world’s first litter box with “built-in stool and urine image recognition” to analyze cats’ poop. If pet owners utilize cat litter that is formulated with a reagent that changes color in response to pH and the presence of blood, your vet can be alerted and monitor health through treatment.
Implantables to Wearable Devices for Pets
With help from devices like heart monitors to implantable pacemakers, vets can digitally monitor pets’ health remotely. Wearable monitors can alert vets to sudden abnormalities. The vet can analyze and contact the pet’s owner, all from the comfort of home. This allows for deeper observation of high-risk pets. It also lessens the hassle or inconvenience of the owners having to bring them into the vet’s office.
All pet owners want what’s best for their animals. Veterinary telemedicine allows pet owners to have more accessibility to their vets and other experts. This is a phenomenon that is extremely helpful during quarantines, like COVID-19. This trend will continue to grow post coronavirus.