Retailers see benefits in offering veterinary telehealth

Chewy, the online pet food and pet product retailer owned by PetSmart, has joined the growing ranks of companies offering telemedicine services connecting pet-owning customers with veterinarians.

“Visiting a local vet continues to be a challenge for many pet parents during this time,” said Sumit Singh, CEO of Chewy, in a statement announcing the launch of Connect With a Vet last October. “The vet community has also been impacted via clinic shutdowns or reduced clinic hours. So, we thought, why not come up with a solution that can help both communities, our customers and veterinarians, in this time of greatest need.”

Connect With a Vet was initially launched in Florida and Massachusetts in the spring of 2020, and Chewy has since expanded it to 47 states with plans of going nationwide. The service is available exclusively and free of charge to customers subscribed to Chewy’s auto-ship program.

Approximately 35 companies currently offer veterinary telemedicine services, according to Dr. Aaron Smiley, president of the Indiana VMA and a telemedicine advocate, who says it’s a way that companies can promote customer loyalty.

“The customer benefits by getting advice from a veterinary expert versus a Google search or asking a friend on Facebook,” Dr. Smiley explained. “And the animal always benefits when its owner has access to veterinary medicine.”

A study by the AVMA and Purdue University published online this past August on Science Direct examined client perspectives and willingness to pay for veterinary telemedicine. Researchers found that pet owners prefer to be connected with their veterinarian versus a random veterinarian nationally and that they are willing to pay more for that connection.

“This is critically central to the discussion around telemedicine and the concerns by veterinarians that telemedicine will take away their clients and hurt the practice,” said Matthew J. Salois, PhD, the AVMA’s chief veterinary economist. “On the contrary, our study demonstrates that telemedicine can be a hugely impactful tool to deepen the veterinary relationship with their client and support the economic sustainability of the practice.”

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