A lot of conversation about social distancing zeroes in on the literal two metres we should keep between us in public, but the term also captures the many ways in which technology and the right protocol can create distance that will also help us flatten the virus’ exponential growth curve. In this time of global pandemic and social distancing, it’s really something that the devices often lamented for thwarting social interaction are now nearly all that keeps us connected. They’re also making it possible for essential services such as veterinary medicine to continue through telemedicine, which dramatically reduces the risk of spreading COVID-19 in our communities, while ensuring your animals can still receive veterinary care.
You may have already noticed changes at your veterinary clinic. Many practices have implemented strict protocols related to client and staff interactions based on the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association’s (ABVMA’s) recommendations . These include closing practices to all walk-in traffic, requiring online, debit or credit purchases to avoid handling cash, and using phones and device applications such as Zoom, Skype and FaceTime to engage in telemedicine with clients and answer any questions they might have about their pet’s health and welfare.
Telemedicine is relatively new in Alberta’s veterinary practices . As a tool, it’s designed to augment the delivery of veterinary services by using a smartphone or other communications device to provide veterinary medical advice and treatment based on remote diagnosis of disease and injury where, in some specific situations, no physical veterinary examination has taken place . In the middle of the current crisis, telemedicine goes further, adding value to public health by supporting social distancing protocols.
There is some vigilance required when members of the public are considering their telemedicine options. There is a small but potential risk of veterinarians who aren’t registered to practice in Alberta soliciting telemedicine services to Albertans. Although this kind of solicitation is infrequent, the ABVMA urges the public to be aware and to always contact their veterinarian first. If you are unsure about the legitimacy of someone’s credentials, you can also check the ABVMA’s online register,  to see if they are licensed to practice veterinary medicine in the province.
When you call your veterinarian, be sure to ask about social distancing protocol on site, in the event your pet is required to come to the clinic. You and your veterinarian can continue using telemedicine without interaction in instances where you or someone you’ve assigned are picking up medications or dropping off your animal.
Every patient is different. The ABVMA asks the public to inquire with their veterinarian, to learn more about specific options and use, and how the service fits within a practice’s fee structure. It’s vitally important that we maintain our distance from one another as we grapple with this pandemic. But it’s equally important that we stay connected, through technology, for our sake and that of our animals.