Telemedicine has been a hot topic for a while now, especially since the start of the pandemic when lockdowns forced veterinary practices all over the world to reassess how they were going to continue offering healthcare to their patients with all the restrictions that were in force.
There are a number of benefits to offering telemedicine in your practice, such as remote access to veterinary care, more accurate triaging of emergency cases, and surgical advancements that improve the quality of life of patients.
However, with advancements being so reliant on technology, there are also a number of challenges of telemedicine that practices and surgeries need to overcome in order to offer clients and their pets the best possible service.
In today’s post we are going to break down the biggest challenges of telemedicine to help you seamlessly transition from your current business model into the veterinary practice model of the future.
What Is Telemedicine?
Put simply, telemedicine is the ability to offer veterinary care remotely. This includes remote consultations through video consultation websites, phone calls, emails, and chat apps. By conducting consultations remotely through various technological platforms, veterinarians are able to provide a diagnosis. It can also be used to recommend a specific treatment, and provide a prescription without a need for clients to bring their pets into a veterinary practice.
Although this technology has been around for a while now, its use has accelerated rapidly as a result of the recent pandemic when clients were unable to bring their pets into clinics due to lockdown restrictions. Although restrictions have now been lifted, many practices are seeing the benefits of continuing with telemedicine for certain consultations.
For example, by offering telemedicine solutions to clients, you can reduce the number of patients in your waiting rooms and manage your consultations more efficiently. This offers a solution to scheduling issues and enables you to provide quality care to a higher number of patients. Telemedicine is also especially useful when it comes to post-operative care. Or managing pets with chronic, recurring issues, when a physical in-person examination is not strictly necessary.
However, although there are a great number of benefits, there are also a number of challenges of telemedicine in the veterinary sector.
Let’s take a look at the top 5 obstacles that you need to be aware of.
Not as Thorough as Hands-on Consults
One challenge of telemedicine that is often cited by veterinarians is that it’s impossible to offer the same quality of care remotely as with a hands-on consultation at your clinic.
How can you examine an animal without having actual physical access to it?
Whilst it’s true that certain appointments will always require a physical visit. Such as emergency examinations when an animal is acutely sick or has had an accident, other appointments can easily be managed just as well remotely. Examples include appointments for animals suffering from chronic conditions. For example, seasonal allergies, standard postoperative checks, and appointments for simple procedures such as administering flea and worm treatment.
The key is implementing a triaging system which enables you to determine which animals actually need to come into the clinic, and which can be offered a remote telemedicine appointment.
New Technology Can Be Daunting
Another common challenge of telemedicine is that new and emerging technology can often be daunting. This goes for any major change to your veterinary practice’s processes and procedures. You need to invest time, energy, and resources before you can begin to see the benefits.
However, as overwhelming as change might be, the advantages of implementing telemedicine services in your veterinary practice far outweigh the short-term efforts required to implement them. Plus, with millennials and Gen Z now being the predominant pet-owning demographic, the demand for technological solutions is only going to get greater. Better to get ahead of the game now and start benefitting from everything that telemedicine has to offer both you and your clients.
Cost for Practices and Clients
Aside from being daunting, many veterinary practitioners are also put off by the cost of implementing the technology needed in order to offer telemedicine services. This includes initial set up costs and purchasing the right devices. You also need to encourage certain clients to purchase new technology so that they are able to connect remotely.
However, although there is a degree of cost involved at the start, once your telemedicine services are up and running, remote visits are typically less expensive than physical clinic visits. Plus, clients save on travel expenses.
Introducing Telemedicine Processes Takes Times
Another challenge of telemedicine is that it takes time to adapt to new ways of working. You need to create new policies and procedures, adapt your workflows, and train both staff and clients so that they are able to engage with the technology.
In reality, although it may take some time to adapt to new systems and processes, in the long run, relying on telemedicine for certain visits will actually save you time. Telemedicine can streamline many of your services so that your practice runs more smoothly. Your patients are able to access care much quicker than if they had to wait for a scheduled physical appointment. And with improved access to care, your clients will feel more connected and more valued, cementing their trust and loyalty.
Regulatory Challenges of Telemedicine
Although telemedicine has been around for some time in human healthcare, it is still a relatively new concept in the veterinary industry. This means that regulations are still catching up, especially when it comes to remote prescribing.
For example, in the U.S., requisites concerning telemedicine are often codified in state regulations, which vary by jurisdiction. Some states, such as Arizona, California, Oregon, and Pennsylvania, relaxed veterinary-client-patient-relationship requirements to allow remote prescribing during the pandemic. In the UK, remote prescribing was also permitted during the pandemic. The Standards Committee of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) has since decided that the temporary dispensation allowing remote prescribing of prescription-only veterinary medicines no longer applies.
This is perhaps the biggest challenge of telemedicine right now. Until regulations adapt to the growing demand for remote consultations, veterinary services will not be able to take full advantage of all the benefits that telemedicine has to offer.