Veterinary Virtual Care : Viva VVCA!

Who benefits from virtual care?

Clients: Telemedicine gives patients the opportunity to receive care without a trip to the veterinarian’s office. They don’t have to take time away from work or family responsibilities. They don’t waste time traveling, or money on parking or public transportation. They don’t risk exposure to other animals with communicable illnesses. More engaged and personal visits could be a possible outcome.
Providers: Virtual visits reduce the time of each encounter, allowing providers to see more patients more efficiently. This boosts revenue and minimizes overhead expenses. Telemedicine reduces no-shows and cancellations. It also helps secure client loyalty.
Interest Is Growing
Veterinarians have been debating telemedicine and experimenting with it since 2016, when the Veterinary Innovation Council and other organizations, including the American Association of Veterinary State Boards and the American Veterinary Medical Association, started to engage.

Three challenges have fueled the growth of interest in virtual care:

If it has worked for 30 years in human health care, why can’t it work in the veterinary space (pets and large animals)?
How do we get practitioners and veterinary technicians comfortable with telemedicine or, put more bluntly, is virtual care a way to grow practice revenues or just a drain on precious time?
Too many pet owners do not access veterinary care, so can’t telemedicine be part of the solution provided we make it easier for practices to use these tools?
COVID-19 forced governments to urge human and animal caregivers to use telemedicine to treat patients, and providers responded. We witnessed a surge of interest, learning and experimentation. When we wake up from the depths of COVID-19, when some form of normal has returned, we will not see telemedicine step back to where it was in February 2020. Scores of practices have tried it or expanded usage with positive outcomes.

Telemedicine works with young children who cannot articulate or verbalize their medical condition, and the same is true for pets. The human health experience with digital tools offers a storehouse of knowledge and guidance for veterinarians. An early mission for VVCA is to make this expertise accessible to practitioners so that they might determine what works best for their clinics.

A Revenue Generator
We’ve learned a lot in four years since veterinary telemedicine entered the veterinary scene, most importantly that practices are able to charge for the offerings and keep clients happy through services inside and outside of the clinic. There’s no longer a debate about clients being willing to pay for virtual care, but VVCA will work diligently to educate veterinarians about different options. That’s a high priority for the new association, namely addressing questions as to what types of virtual care fit particular situations, and which ones are easy for veterinary teams and clients to adopt. Veterinarians share best practices all the time, and veterinary virtual care should be no different.

The issue of access to care drove human health care to adopt telemedicine in the first place, starting in states such as Kentucky and Oklahoma, which have rural populations unable to reach facilities in cities and towns. The same challenge faces rural pet owners and urban senior citizens who can’t get to a veterinary clinic.

Then there are pet owners uncomfortable visiting a veterinary clinic for whatever reason. This group often includes millennial pet owners who want services on demand and don’t want to travel or schedule an appointment. While the majority of pet owners bring their pets to clinics, why not deploy virtual care or telemedicine to reach the rest?

A common misunderstanding with telemedicine has been whether it involves a choice between virtual care and in-person visits. Virtual care is a tool alongside in-person care and is a stand-alone tool only when the client cannot or simply will not visit the practice.

VVCA was created to bring focus and standards to this emerging practice resource, but not to replace current veterinary care modalities. This same approach brought human health care powerhouses like Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic into the telemedicine space.

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