How To Transition To Veterinary Telemedicine

In times of social distancing, farms needing certain types of veterinary assistance can use telemedicine. Here are five tips for making use of this tool.

by Anna O'Brien
PHOTO: Phovoir/Shutterstock

Given the severe restrictions that have been placed on travel and person-to-person interaction for the foreseeable future due to the coronavirus response and COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no surprise that the practice of veterinary medicine has been impacted along with so many other industries.

For most veterinary practices, elective procedures are canceled or rescheduled. This includes such things as routine castrations, annual physical examinations and herd checks for healthy animals, and regularly scheduled dental cleanings.

However, veterinary care, as with human medicine, is still deemed an essential service. And emergency/critical care visits are still allowed at the discretion of the specific clinic.

For other issues, a somewhat new avenue being is being employed at clinics across the country: telemedicine.

Telemedicine serves as a bit of umbrella term. In general, it refers to the use of technology to remotely deliver health information or care.

Given the decent connectivity many clinics have with clients in the U.S., the option to discuss a health issue via Skype or a similar app is a prime example of telemedicine use. In the current climate, where we must limit face-to-face interactions between people, telemedicine offers a reasonable surrogate for a farm call for many situations.

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So what does this mean for the animals on your farm?

For any veterinary-related question, your best bet is to first call, email or check your veterinary clinic’s website directly for the most up-to-date information on specific hours and triage conditions. If, after confirming with someone at the clinic that your situation fits with a telemedicine approach, consider these tips on how to navigate this option if available.

Learn all about about on-farm diagnostics in veterinary care.

What Equipment Do You Need For Telemedicine?

Understand your connectivity capabilities. Ask yourself the following:

  • If using FaceTime or another video application, does your phone have adequate reception out at the barn?
  • If not, can you adequately describe what you’re seeing?
  • Do you have the ability to take photos and email or text them to your veterinarian?

In some circumstances, a phone call may be all that’s available. But generally, visual aids are extremely helpful for your veterinarian to fully understand what’s going on.

Do You Have a VCPR?

Most states require you to have a valid veterinary-client-patient relationship (VCPR) in place before a veterinarian can employ telemedicine.

This means, in general (definitions of VCPR vary state by state), that your veterinarian has visited your farm before and seen your animals. In other words, if you call a clinic that you’ve never worked with before, you have not yet established a VCPR with a veterinarian there.

Lack of a VCPR may likely preclude a telemedicine appointment, although some states have temporarily relaxed some regulations regarding VCPR. They’ve done this to help supply veterinary services during this pandemic.

Your veterinarian is the best source for this information.

Have All Pertinent Information Available

Before the telemedicine appointment, take notes on what information you need to relay. This includes :

  • animal information
  • vaccination dates
  • health history
  • feed ingredients
  • temperature/pulse/respiration
  • breeding dates

Additionally, during the appointment, consider having your vet on speaker phone so that someone else, if available, can listen and take notes. Another consideration is to ask your vet for a summary of the visit in a follow-up email.

Be Direct

Communication is key. If you have a question, ask it.

This includes getting information about cost, billing options and what your vet can and cannot do via telemedicine. Be clear on your needs—what are you looking to get out of this interaction?

After the Call, Reflect

Were your questions and concerns addressed?

Do you have a plan of action for your animals?

If interested in doing this again, are there any areas to improve?

Consider offering feedback to your veterinarian. For many vets, this is a new medium to explore. If constructive, feedback is likely to be helpful, as it may help other clients as well.

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