By Dr. Shea Cox, Hospice Vet
The coronavirus pandemic is forcing us to rethink how we go about all aspects of our day, including how we are able to care for our pets when a concern arises. Enter telehealth for pets.
Telehealth for pets has been around for years, but its use has been amplified with the COVID-19 pandemic. While many people are familiar with telehealth from their own personal care experiences, questions remain when it comes to how this technology can be utilized for veterinary care. This quick guide will share the basics of veterinary telehealth and what you need to know to get the most out of this evolving area of pet care.
What Is the Difference Between Pet Telehealth and Pet Telemedicine? And What’s a VCPR?
Many people use the terms Telehealth and Telemedicine interchangeably, but there is a significant difference between the two. There are also legal requirements to practicing one or both, depending on the state. In a nutshell:
- Telehealth is the overarching term that includes any use of technology to deliver health care remotely.
- Telemedicine is a subcategory of Telehealth that includes the ability of your vet to diagnose a condition or prescribe a medication for your pet. Telemedicine, with exception of advice given in an emergency situation, can only be conducted when your vet has an existing VCPR.
- A VCPR is a Veterinary-Client-Patient Relationship between your vet and you and your pet. In most states, a VCPR is established when your vet has performed an in-person examination of your pet within the past year.
Can My Vet Diagnose What’s Wrong With My Pet or Prescribe Meds With a Virtual Visit?
If your vet has a current VCPR with you and your pet, then they are able to diagnose and prescribe medications with a virtual visit alone (Telemedicine).
If a veterinarian does not have a current VCPR, or if you are seeking telehealth services with a new veterinarian, then they are only allowed to give general advice (Telehealth). Unfortunately, veterinarians are not allowed to diagnose or prescribe medications unless they have a current VCPR, as discussed above.
Do I Need Special Equipment to Connect With My Vet?
The technology built into most smartphones, tablets and laptops provides all you need for a telehealth consult, but depending on what your veterinarian uses to connect to you virtually, you may need to download a specific App ahead of time for your virtual visit.
What Should I Do If My Pet Is Ill or If I’m Really Concerned?
Veterinary telehealth services are not a replacement for emergency care. If your pet has been injured or needs emergency care, take them to the closest ER or go directly to your vet for an in-person visit. TIP: Most veterinary hospitals now have COVID-19 protocols in place and it is recommended that you call while en route or when you arrive instead of taking your pet into the clinic yourself.
With social distancing and shelter-in-place mandates, “virtual vet care” is an excellent option. When you have an established relationship with your vet, Telehealth services can help facilitate communication, diagnostics, treatments and care, and can offer many benefits for both pet and pet parent, including providing direct access to veterinary care in a convenient and safe manner. Ask your vet if they offer virtual care as an alternative option to in-clinic visits.
And check out our Ten Tips for a Successful Telehealth Veterinarian Consult!
Dr. Shea Cox is the founder of PetHospice and a prominent leader in animal hospice and palliative care. With a focus on technology, innovation and education, her efforts are changing the end-of-life landscape in veterinary medicine, and as a telehealth advocate, she is working to change the laws around how veterinarians can use Telemedicine to care for their patients.