In a May 11th, 2020 interview with JAVMA News, veterinary influencer and best-selling author Dr. Jessica Vogelsang (All Dogs Go to Kevin) identified the main challenge faced by veterinarians racing to incorporate telemedicine into their practices in response to COVID-19.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, said Dr. Vogelsang, “Veterinarians looked at telemedicine as a novelty”—something they may get around to exploring one day. As a result, many veterinarians were unprepared when COVID-19 changed telemedicine from novelty to necessity. According to a December 2019 article published in the peer-reviewed journal BMC Veterinary Research, researchers identified “a lack of both knowledge of telehealth and telemedicine and its utilization among veterinarians surveyed.” Unknowingly foreshadowing world changes that would come at the start of 2020, the BMC article added, “It is important that veterinarians understand telehealth and how to effectively utilize telehealth services in practice.”
When physical distancing policies came into effect during COVID-19, veterinarians immediately understood the importance of a telemedicine system to serve clients and patients remotely if they hoped to weather the COVID-19 economic storm. “But they had no clue what that meant,” said Dr. Vogelsang in her JAVMA interview. “People were sort of running around in panic mode,” signing up for platforms without understanding what they wanted to do with it and, as a result, “getting really frustrated because they weren’t getting the outcome that they wanted.”
To avoid this when assessing a telemedicine system for your practice, replacing the word want with need helps provide clearer navigation. While wants can be compelling as a desire-based emotion, wants are also based on theoretical eventualities that may or may not happen. So, wants may not lead to desired outcomes. Needs, on the other hand, stand self-evidently, and meeting needs generally leads to tangible, measurable outcomes.
To help practices make clearer telemedicine needs assessments, the AVMA’s Veterinary Telehealth: The Basics web page reminds veterinarians that telemedicine is a subcategory of the overarching term telehealth, which includes the subcategories of teletriage and telemonitoring. “Understanding key definitions,” says the AVMA, “is important as you decide whether and how to implement telemedicine in your practice.”
Understanding telehealth subcategories is particularly important when it comes to needs because needs are situational, meaning they can change. A telehealth system that solves one need today may seem great, but if new needs arise down the road and your telehealth system cannot adapt, new problems can emerge if you’re forced to search for a new system. Ideally, the telehealth solution you choose should be flexible enough to meet your immediate practice needs and provide for new needs when they develop so you can quickly and easily adapt.
In other words, your telehealth solution should be a complete one with the tools to optimize operations and business efficiencies while adapting to changing protocols.
As a cloud-based service, Petriage provides a unique software platform (developed by a veterinarian) by which your clients can use the Petriage online Symptom Checker tool to assess the urgency of their pets’ symptoms and, when applicable, provide clients the opportunity to request online consultations remotely.
Offering three incremental service levels (teletriage, telemonitoring, and telemedicine) to fit the needs and budget of any practice, Petriage has read and writeback capabilities to automatically sync data from all three levels to practice management system medical records. Petriage currently integrates with Cornerstone, AVImark, ImproMed, eVetPractice, and IntraVet (the latter does not have writeback), and further system integrations are coming soon, including Vetter, ezyVet, and rhapsody.
Trusted by veterinarians across North America and recommended to its members by the Washington State Veterinary Medical Association (WSVMA), Petriage is available through LifeLearn as a standalone solution. Petriage can also be added and integrated into LifeLearn WebDVM custom veterinary websites (both for existing and new WebDVM customers) for quick pet-owner access.
How Petriage works:
- Customize your clinic preferences and pricing and invite clients to join your Petriage portal through email, social, or in-clinic visits.
- Capture cases by consulting directly with clients via the Petriage app.
- Deliver consistent, high-quality care online and off, with all communications attached to a pet’s medical record.
There are no setup fees for Petriage, which provides for unlimited staff users and unlimited consultations, and you can be up and running in as little as one week.
As you consider all this and digest the information, there are two more considerations that may be the most important of all.
Namely, competitiveness and preparedness.
In the previously mentioned JAVMA story, Dr. Lori Teller (vice chair of the AVMA’s Board of Directors and award-winning veterinary telehealth pioneer) indicated her belief that practices won’t drop telehealth in the post-pandemic world. While she acknowledged that telehealth is “never going to replace traditional veterinary medicine,” she also said, “I think people are recognizing the role that it does play in adding to the services that we offer.” Since telehealth provides convenience and service to pet owners, practices with telehealth systems are logically better equipped to navigate the current crisis, rebound from it, and stand apart from competitors to thrive in the days ahead.
There is also the question of a second COVID-19 wave in the coming fall and winter.
While few people want to think of such a possibility, CNN ran a story on May 2nd, 2020 with the headline, “Another wave of coronavirus will likely hit the US in the fall. Here’s why and what we can do to stop it.” Similarly, Live Science ran a story on April 23rd, 2020 with the headline, “Flu and coronavirus will launch dual ‘assault’ on America next winter if we don’t prepare now, CDC chief warns.” Although the stories contain a speculative nature, they certainly speak to possibility.
Said another way: By evidence, scrambling around at the last minute in response to sudden need is not an optimal way to respond. By putting a complete telehealth system in place for your practice today, you not only have the tools to optimize operations and business efficiencies while adapting to changing protocols of the current COVID-19 crisis. You also invest in tools to be more competitive in the post-pandemic landscape and stand better prepared should COVID-19 return as a second wave and telehealth again becomes a necessity in order to operate and survive.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The future belongs to those who prepare for it,” and as pointed out by BMC Veterinary Research, telehealth preparedness begins with better understanding.
client communications, client retention, telehealth, petriage, telemedicine, 2020