Telemedicine is the practice of caring for patients remotely when the provider, client and patient are not physically together. Using video conferencing tools, veterinarians are able to consult with patients. Modern technology enables the delivery of veterinary care services from afar. Benefits of telemedicine include saving time and money. It lowers the barriers of access to veterinary care including to underserved areas. Because telemedicine is a more affordable option, clients have the freedom to consult with a veterinarian more often. This in turn provides clients with peace of mind knowing they have easier access to high quality veterinary care.
Used since 1960 by the military and NASA, human telemedicine has become more common and familiar. Technology has advanced at rapid speeds increasing the use of telemedicine to deliver health care from a distance. Recent studies have shown telemedicine is effective at improving clinical outcomes while decreasing inpatient utilization. Patients report high satisfaction in areas of mental health and chronic disease management. Telemedicine gives health care providers the ability to remotely deliver care improving not only access for patients but also outcomes.
Due to a combination of advances in both consumer-friendly technology and human health care, veterinarians are beginning to embrace telemedicine technologies. Veterinarians recognize telemedicine can be another tool in their practice used to facilitate veterinary medicine and augment, not replace, onsite veterinary care. For example, a veterinarian might use Skype or an app to communicate with a client and visualize the patient for a post operative follow up examination and discuss next steps.
Most states require an existing veterinarian-client patient relationship or VCPR in order for a veterinarian to diagnosis, prescribe medication and treat a patient for each condition that a pet has. For example, if a pet has been seen recently (ie within 2 weeks) by a veterinarian in person for a skin problem, then a follow-up may be possible via telemedicine for the skin only. If a new condition occurs (ie ear infection), then another in-person examination is required. Federal law requires a VCPR for prescribing extra-label drugs for pets and issuing veterinary feed directions. Under a VCPR, the veterinarian assumes responsibility for making a medical judgment. A VCPR provides the veterinarian with adequate knowledge of a patient in order to make a preliminary diagnosis. Benefits to the client include an assurance the veterinarian is available for follow up treatment or has made arrangements for emergency coverage and continuing care and treatment. Tennessee requires veterinarians have an established relationship with a client and patient before offering a telemedicine option.
Circumstances in which telemedicine could be offered to clients in order to enhance traditional veterinary care include the following: post-operative follow up; skin issues; behavioral issues; hospice care; transportation issues; basic triage; environmental concerns or hazards; chronic disease maintenance care as well as long term care monitoring. Providing telemedicine to clients and patients allows a veterinarian to remotely deliver care. In addition to saving time and being more cost effective, telemedicine enhances accessibility and improves client communication.