Are you a pet parent who is considering using a veterinary telehealth service for your pup or kitty? It can be hard to know if vet telehealth services are the right option for you, what to expect when using them, and how to ensure they're cost-effective and beneficial for your pet's overall wellness. Never fear, PetHub is here to walk you through "Fur Kid Telehealth 101."
To help us, we recently had Dr. Seth Vrendenburg ("Dr. V" as we like to call him), a VetInsight licensed veterinarian, on our Pet Lover Geek podcast (you can listen to the pawd-cast here) and we'll share some of his insights below. Let's dig into pet telecare and how it will help your fur kid stay healthy and happy.
Veterinary Telemedicine vs. Telehealth
First, it's su-paw important to know that these are two distinct forms of veterinary care, both of which leverage technology to provide care for animals remotely. Let's take a quick moment to review both options and what they entail.
This is a service that enables the remote diagnosis of an animal's condition and the formulation of treatment plans with direct supervision from a veterinarian. In other words, your fur kid is an existing patient with the veterinarian and has been physically seen at the clinic before.
Also called tele-triage or tele-advice, telehealth is a broader term that encompasses the remote service of veterinary care, including client education, prevention, and wellness programs. These services allow for increased access, often 24/7 availability, to veterinary professionals and resources.
Ultimately, both forms of remote care allow for improved communication between veterinarians, pet parents, and their pets, leading to better overall health outcomes. By utilizing technology and modern resources, veterinary telemedicine and telehealth are transforming the way we care for animals.
What is Veterinary Telehealth and How Does it Work?
How do I Get Telecare for my Pets?
Most local veterinary services are limited in their ability to provide 24/7 services and though they may offer limited telemedicine access, telehealth or tele-advice may not be part of what they offer (see the previous section to learn the difference).
For true "on-demand" access to licensed veterinarians, your best bet is to find a separate service. Your pet insurance or other pet service providers may actually include or offer telehealth services. If you don't have pet insurance, yet, visit our convenient insurance quote comparison tool, here. PetHub now offers Wellness Tools, which includes truly affordable, unlimited telehealth tools for your whole furry family. Other options include apps and websites that offer on-demand telehealth appointments (such as Vetster) or subscription-based telemedicine services (such as Pawp).
Can I just use Telehealth Instead of Going to the Local Veterinarian?
The obvious benefit? You can get answers to your pet's health questions from the comfort of your own home in your pajamas. It saves time, too, as most telehealth options provide instant connection to a qualified veterinary professional. Most telehealth services cost a lot less than the cost of a single vet visit (not to mention travel expenses and hassle), and many provide unlimited consultations for one annual (or monthly) fee.
What is one benefit that isn't discussed much? Most online veterinarians will spend more time with you to provide helpful advice and insights to help you care for your pet. According to Dr. V, "You know [tele-advice vets] have the gift of time. When I'm interacting with a client through VetInsight, I don't really have any time limit on that. Our phone calls and chats typically are set up for 15 minutes and typically that's enough time to kind of get through what you need. But consults can last 20 or 30 minutes depending on what the topic is and how much information we're trying to share. Our philosophy is to slow down and share as much as we can so that the pet parents are armed with the knowledge they need."
Drawbacks to Consider:
Online veterinarians may be limited in what they can do. Without an in-person exam, they may not be allowed to diagnose health issues, and they can't prescribe medications. Be wary of services that tout they can do prescription medication for your pet -- it's limited by your state’s legal regulations, so read the fine print before shelling over any cash.
If you thrive on building a relationship with a single provider, you may not love the lack of consistency of providers that most services have. You'll likely "see" a different vet every time you use the service.
Which is Best?
Ultimately, a combination of both telehealth sessions and in-person vet visits will set your pet up for optimal health. Understand that online vets like Dr. V will do everything they can to provide you with their thoughts on what might be going on, "Our goal is to help you improve the overall wellness and health of your pets, and to empower you to make the right decisions for them."
That said, online televets like members of the VetInsight team are not going to be able to definitively diagnose or prescribe anything. They can, however, often recommend some over-the-counter options you can get at a local pet store or online. More importantly, they can use their expertise to evaluate clinical signs and concerns you share with them to determine if this is something that can be dealt with at home, or if an in-person vet visit is needed.
Preparing for your Pet's Telehealth Consultation
Are you ready for your furry kid's first telehealth consultation? Trust us, it's a LOT easier than prepping for an in-person vet visit, and a lot less stressful for your pet. First, make sure you and your pet are comfortable and in a well-lit space for the veterinarian to see them clearly if you plan on using a video chat service.
If it makes sense for the situation, take photos or videos beforehand to share with the veterinarian so you don't feel pressure during the actual "visit," and even if you are not sharing video, be sure to have your pet with you during the call so your vet can observe any symptoms.
What to Expect in a Telehealth Appointment:
When we asked Dr. V what to expect during your pet's online visit, he said, "I like to think the experience is very similar to what you would experience in a clinic. Expect to have a lot of questions asked. [Veterinarians] are inquisitive people and the more information we can know about your concern or the situation that's affecting your pet the better off we are at being able to provide appropriate insight and advice."
Messaging, Video or Email?
Dr.V suggests that you choose the "medium" form of consultation that best fits your time needs first and foremost. Some services offer email consultations, and if you don't have time to sit for 20-30 minutes for a video or a text chat, that might be a good option for you.
That said, email can include a bit of a turnaround (as much as a day or two with the back and forth of email communication), so if it's something that's a little bit more urgent or you're looking for then you know doing a chat or setting up a phone call is probably going to be your best bet.
Questions to Ask:
Once you have completed your virtual vet consultation, it's time to take action! Make sure you know what step you need to take next and make a follow-up appointment with your local veterinarian if necessary.
Some telehealth services will even help arrange this for you. Additionally, most online veterinarians provide digital records of your pet's visits that you can share with your local veterinarian or use as a reference when discussing any future health concerns.
Following-up with your Veterinarian
Though some pet parents may have concerns about how their local, regular veterinarian will react to them using a telehealth service for their pets, Dr. V says not to worry: "I think as we grow in our understanding of the importance of telehealth, veterinarians are becoming more and more open the idea of it. I have not had any issues with anybody asking why I'm talking to their clients. I think they understand that our goal is the same. In veterinary medicine the more heads you put together, the more likely you are to get to the right answer."
At the end of the day, telehealth is an incredibly useful service that makes it easier for pet parents to get the help they need without having to leave their homes. With its convenience and cost savings benefits, telehealth is rapidly becoming the go-to resource for pet owners everywhere.
Get Telehealth Today from PetHub!
If you’re looking for an affordable and convenient way to improve your pet’s overall health, address minor health issues and get valuable advice from experienced licensed veterinarians, PetHub's Wellness Tools is the solution. Instantly get answers via text, chat, email, and video chat without leaving your own home (real pants are optional). No matter what it may be, rest assured that knowledgeable and compassionate vet advice services are just a few clicks away.