Telemedicine: What Your Veterinarian Can and Can’t Do

Many people are turning to telemedicine–and pet care is no exception. Even as states open up, concerns about the public health crisis has prompted many pet guardians to reduce their (and their animals’) exposure unless absolutely necessary.

Telemedicine provides an easier alternative, with the flexibility of virtual consultations, and a more streamlined communication process. While regulations vary from state to state, the FDA recently relaxed its restrictions requiring in-person appointments, allowing veterinarians to prescribe drugs after a virtual video examination.

Until 2017, all states except Connecticut (as well as the District of Columbia) forbade diagnosis and prescription without a VCPR (veterinarian-client/patient relationship) that was established through an in-person exam. Many states have now eased mandates that require an existing VCPR prior to treatment by telemedicine.

Here are services that many practitioners can offer via pet telemedicine, along with some suggestions for making virtual consultations go more smoothly.

Types of Appointments Approved for Telemedicine

APPROVED:

  • For non-emergency and routine visits, your veterinarian may be able to conduct an exam using text, videoconferencing, voice or chat. As a replacement for a routine annual checkup or minor problem, this virtual consultation may be all that is needed for the present time.
  • In addition to consultations, the second type of remote service clinics can provide are follow-up appointments. Follow-ups allow veterinarians to conduct convenient appointments with pets they have already provided health care services for, such as after a surgery. This gives veterinarians a chance to check up on the healing progress of their patient and ensure the pet is completely healthy.
  • Some scenarios that lend themselves successfully to veterinary telemedicine include dermatological problems, postoperative follow-up, long-term and hospice care, and behavioral issues and training. Perhaps the most important is triage—determining if an issue can wait/be treated remotely or if a pet needs to be seen immediately in an emergency setting, or as soon as possible with an in-office visit.
  • Depending on the state, your veterinarian may be able to prescribe medications for your pet, and arrange curbside pickup or delivery through mail or courier. The maximum refill period for a prescription medication is 18 months.

NOT APPROVED:

  • Veterinarians cannot provide emergency treatment via telemedicine, and will refer you to their or another emergency service.
  • Patients that have not previously been seen in person by the veterinarian, or are otherwise outside the bounds of an established a Veterinarian Client/Patient Relationship (VCPR), are not eligible for veterinary telemedicine.

Preparing For Your Consultation

  • Familiarize yourself with the technology your vet will use during the exam, and make sure everything is installed and working properly. Unlike Zoom or many other less-secure do-it-yourself video platforms, TeleVet’s proprietary system ensures security, keeping your consultation safe and information private.
  • Make notes ahead in advance, so that you don’t forget any questions or concerns.
  • Have a good source of lighting available, especially if your veterinarian will be looking at skin conditions or checking on the healing of an incision. A small handheld lighted magnifying glass may be useful to have on hand. (And if you don’t use it during your consultation, it’s invaluable for reading the tiny print on electronics and product manuals.)
  • If your animal is exhibiting a limp or mobility issue, taking a video of them romping in the back yard/trying to climb the curtains may help your veterinarian decide whether rest and anti-inflammatories or x-rays should be the first course of action.
  • Conducted by distance or not, this is still a veterinary visit. Treats are mandatory for all very good boys and girls!

Check with your veterinarian for state-by-state guidelines. Pet guardians should always have the number of a 24-hour emergency service on hand. Programming it into your phone is an easy way to keep help within reach. Remember, pets often hide illness… use telemedicine with your vet when possible so public health concerns don’t prevent you from keeping your pets healthy!

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