Telehealth:  Opportunities abound

Jul 30, 2017 by Edward L. Blach, DVM, MS, MBA

There has been much discussion and even consternation about telehealth in veterinary medicine for the past several years.  The word 'telehealth' conjures up many different visions of what it means, how it might impact veterinary medicine, and how it could impact veterinary practices.

Let's start by first defining the terms, 'telehealth' and 'telemedicine'.  The AVMA defines them as:

  • Telehealth: the overarching term that encompasses all uses of technology geared to remotely deliver health information or education.
  • Telemedicine: the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s clinical health status.

The distinction between these two terms involves the delivery of information or education (telehealth) versus the delivery of medicine (telemedicine).  The Veterinary Client Patient Relationship (VCPR) limits telemedicine from being used to establish new client relationships, but it is important for practices to understand how technology can help them serve clients and even reach new clients.

Animal owners want to use technology to receive simple answers and animal care services similar to how they recieve services to meet their daily needs.  If practices want to remain relevant to their clients, they should identify those telehealth services that meet client needs and also allow them to deliver appropriate care.

Many practices will not answer simple questions over the phone.  This process puts questions in clients' minds regarding motives for not answering questions via phone.  Clients have gotten suspicious that veterinarians only want them to come in so that they can charge them big fees.  It's not a positive situation when the incentives between service provider and the service recipient are not aligned.  If veterinarians make clients come in to the practice to get questions answered, then the incentives are not aligned.  Veterinarians should get paid for helping clients not have to come in to the practice, which is known as 'wellness'. Clients don't like coming to the practice when it's not absolutely required.  It's inconvenient and expensive.  

Telehealth technologies actually help align the incentives by providing a way to screen patients to reduce unnecessary visits.  Telehealth also helps clients connect with their veterinarian earlier and more frequently in their cycle of need.  Therefore, it will drive valuable clinic visits, and reduce wasted use of staff and facility resources when a visit isn't necessary.

These are just a few reasons to explore optimal use of telehealth.  Use telehealth to optimize the care you provide.  There are many opportunities to improve customer and patient care through the use of these modalities.  Find those that are a fit for you and use them to provide exemplary care and to stay relevant in a changing world.

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