Telemedicine: taking care of your pet remotely

The pandemic has accelerated innovation in the field of communications, especially regarding videoconferencing and remote work capabilities. To limit physical contact many health clinics now offer consultations using online tools—and veterinary clinics are no exception. Here’s an overview of telemedicine and how it can help you take care of your pet while staying safe at home.

Telemedicine services vary

Since many veterinary clinics are independent small businesses, it’s up to each veterinary clinic to decide how to implement telemedicine as a service. Some will simply set up a videoconference call using software like Zoom, Teams or Facetime, and send a link by SMS or email. Others will employ extensive, specialized platforms that seamlessly integrate scheduling appointments, sending reminders, videoconferencing and even credit card processing. Finally, we’re seeing the rise of start-up companies inspired by Uber and Airbnb that may become giant “online veterinary clinics,” linking independent veterinarians to patients. Your telemedicine experience may vary greatly depending on the clinic or service you’re using.

Provinces are also different

In Canada, veterinary practice is regulated at the provincial level and some telemedicine activities may have different requirements from one province to the next. For example, in Ontario, a veterinarian must either have an established veterinarian client-patient relationship, or acquire sufficient knowledge of a pet and have informed consent from their owner before being allowed to provide remote medical care. In Quebec, requirements are less strict and establishing a new client-patient relationship virtually has been temporarily accepted during the pandemic.

Telemedicine and telehealth: what’s the difference?

Once a veterinarian-client-patient relationship exists, veterinarians are allowed to practice telemedicine, and provide virtually the same service they would in-person, including prescribing treatment or medication, diagnosing illnesses and conducting a dental exam. Some conditions may still require a physical exam or a visit to the clinic, like surgery, diagnostic tests, or teeth cleaning under anesthesia.

Without an existing client-patient relationship or if local regulation requires a first in-person exam, a veterinarian is limited to providing general medical advice, basic recommendations and broad education, a service considered telehealth.

Veterinarians are permitted to act in case of emergency, regardless of an existing (or lack of) veterinarian-client-patient relationship. If your pet is facing a serious or life-threatening situation don’t hesitate to contact your veterinary clinic, or the nearest clinic if you don’t have an established relationship with one.

Benefits of telemedicine

In addition to limiting physical contact during the pandemic, telemedicine may be a good alternative to some pet owners who have difficulties attending in-person visits. Extremely anxious pets may benefit from consults in the comfort of their own home, and busy owners fitting in an appointment on their work lunch break may appreciate the lack of travel time.

While telemedicine allows you and your pet to remain safe at home, in comfortable surroundings, it’s generally meant to be a temporary solution to a crisis or a much-needed extension to actual face-to-face services.