When operating within a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR)  and informed by a recent examination of your pet, veterinary telemedicine is a powerful tool veterinarians are using to overcome challenges related to efficiency, efficacy, and animal health and welfare. When the appropriate criteria are met, licensed veterinarians can use telemedicine to treat, diagnose and prescribe medications for your animal, by leveraging technology such as video calls, text messaging and digital photography.
Because of technology’s vast potential, the subsequently vast application of veterinary telemedicine can seem nebulous. What follows are a series of examples casting light on some of the ways telemedicine is currently being used by Alberta veterinarians.
Scenario 1: Prescription Refill
Dr. Lisa diagnosed Beau, an 8-year-old Cavalier King Charles spaniel, with congestive heart failure secondary to degenerative mitral valve disease last fall. Beau has responded well to treatment with furosemide, pimobendan and enalapril, and was scheduled for a follow up examination, bloodwork and chest x-rays in early April. The prescriptions for her heart medications are finished at the end of March.
With the recent restrictions requiring social distancing due to COVID-19, Beau’s owner called Dr. Lisa’s veterinary practice, as she was going to run out of medications next week. She reported Beau is eating her new diet, sleeps well and is enjoying a good quality of life.
Dr. Lisa’s practice has recently started offering a veterinary telemedicine service where the owner can schedule a video conference call with a veterinarian. Beau’s owner inquired about the service and whether this would allow Dr. Lisa to refill Beau’s prescription. She learned that the veterinarian needs to gather important, relevant information in order to decide if the prescriptions can be safely refilled, or if Beau needs to come into the practice for further diagnostics.
Beau’s owner met with Dr. Lisa over skype. They discussed how Beau is generally feeling, activity level, appetite and change in weight. She also asked more specific questions about Beau’s respiratory rate when sleeping and awake, and how often people in the house reported times where Beau was observed coughing.
From this information, Dr. Lisa determined that Beau was responding well and prescribed the same medications for 3 months, at which time Beau will need to have an examination, bloodwork and chest x-rays. The veterinarian cautioned Beau’s owner if there was any change in Beau’s condition that it is important that she follow up without any delay.
Scenario 2: The Scaredy Cat
Gertrude, a retired senior, has owned Simba, a 12-year-old domestic shorthair tabby cat, since her husband Jim passed away four4 years ago. Simba was losing weight, drinking and urinating an unusually large amount, and occasionally vomiting. Gertrude was understandably concerned, but she had reservations about taking her cat to see the veterinarian. Simba hated getting in the carrier and frantically meowed the entire way there. During their last encounter with the carrier, Simba scratched Gertrude, hurting her. This happened a week earlier, when Gertrude brought Simba to the clinic for a consultation and examination by her veterinarian, who sedated Simba in order to safely conduct blood tests and a urinalysis. Gertrude’s veterinarian diagnosed Simba with diabetes.
Following the diagnosis, a veterinary technologist went through a wealth of information about feeding, insulin administration, blood glucose curve and serial urine testing at home. Like many clients, this was an awful lot of information for Gertrude to understand. Fortunately, Gertrude’s practice offered consultation by videoconference, which meant she could easily double check her instructions for follow-up care and have routine checkups, while avoiding Simba’s stress at travelling to the clinic, all for the same cost as attending at the clinic in person.
Scenario 3: Flock Health
Two things that have made Mark’s job challenging the last few years are the shortage of rural veterinarians like himself, and the size of the geographical area he serves in central Alberta. A large number of his clients operate commercial turkey farms scattered across his municipal district. This gives rise to potential delays in addressing his clients’ concerns regarding their flocks, which has motivated Mark to leverage technology in a way that offers a solution.
Instead of travelling tremendous distances to serve his clients, Mark has implemented electronic monitoring of his clients’ flocks and established constant information streams, supported by video consultations, remote triage and primary diagnosis, and electronic prescriptions. These changes have dramatically improved Mark’s service delivery, allowing him to scale the application of his expertise. All of it has resulted in a better quality of care, increased efficiency, improved communication and an increased quality of life for Mark.
Scenario 4: Reducing Delays and Stress
In a university veterinary oncology department, there are frequently delays in scheduling appointments, which can cause anxiety and stress in patients. In an effort to solve this problem, the department has moved to virtual consultations with oncologists and sharing medical records beforehand. Through this relatively simple change, the oncology department was able to increase availability, reduce wait times for new consultations and follow-ups, provide better patient care and reduce the stress and anxiety in patients who formerly endured a prolonged wait.
Scenario 5: A Photo is Worth 1000 Km
Like his friend Mark who provides care to turkey flocks in central Alberta, Ted is scattered across a large geographic area, too. A rural large animal vet, Ted has thousands of kilometers behind him, just in his little corner of Alberta, and he had always wished he could do something to address the inefficiency of having to drive such great distances to serve his clients.
Thanks to veterinary telemedicine, Ted’s in-person farm calls are now triaged by photos and videos stored in the cloud for easy access and insertion into electronic medical records. This has resulted in improved care, stronger client relationships and much better time management.
These are but a few of the many potential applications of veterinary telemedicine. To learn more about the ways in which this service is being used, the ABVMA encourages the public to contact their veterinarians, to discuss the scope and fee structure in place and how it can benefit you and your animal.