By Jennifer Sperry, DVM, Pets Plus Us Veterinary Advisor
Originally published on petsplusus.com
As technology filters through our daily lives, and more options for communication become available, telemedicine – remote consultation with health providers – is playing a larger role in both human and animal health care. With isolation, quarantine and social distancing due to COVID-19 becoming the way of life for 2020, telemedicine is not only novel and convenient, it is vital. Veterinarians can provide nutrition and lifestyle advice, behaviour advice, medical advice, and in some cases, even referrals and prescription medication, all through telephone or video conferencing.
Many rules and regulations apply to the kind of services veterinarians can offer you via telemedicine. Here are a few tips on how to make the most of your remote options:
Establish a Relationship
The basis of good communication, understanding and trust between pet owners and their veterinarians is a well-established relationship. Almost all jurisdictions require that a veterinarian-client-patient relationship be established before any advice, diagnostics or treatments can be offered. In order to make sure that your veterinarian can offer you the complete range of telemedicine options, make sure that you see your veterinarian in person at least once a year. Not only does this maintain a good relationship, but it allows the veterinarian to perform a complete physical exam so that they have up-to-date information about the weight and health status of your pet, as well as a good sense of your goals and expectations.
Prepare Your Information
Before your remote appointment, make sure to write down all of your concerns. This will help you to stay on track during the conversation, and prevent you from forgetting important points. Have a list of your pet’s current medications, foods, treats, and any vitamins, supplements or natural health products you use for your pet. Your vet will ask you about your pet’s environment, appetite, activity levels, drinking and urination habits, stool habits and consistency, vomiting, coughing, sneezing, and any changes in weight. If you travel with your pet, make sure to tell your veterinarian when and where.
Vets are interested in any changes in your pet’s normal appearance, behaviour or routine. Photos and videos can be very helpful. Feel free to include a picture of that rash, or a video clip of your pet’s cough, limp or tremor. Think about any changes in your lifestyle, environment or daily routine that may have occurred around the time your pet started showing signs or symptoms.If you use any other health or wellness providers for your pet, such as groomers, trainers or alternative medicine practitioners, be sure to let your vet know.
Communicate Your Expectations
Don’t be shy about telling your vet exactly what you hope to achieve with the appointment. They will be sure to respond with clear advice about how to meet your goals. If it’s not possible to meet your expectations, your vet will be able to give you a candid explanation as to why. From there, you will be able to work together towards some suitable alternatives. If any advice seems unclear, or if your vet didn’t address one of your concerns, make sure to repeat your question or clarify the instructions before you end the call.
Keep a pen handy, and make sure to make the call in a quiet place where you can give the conversation your undivided attention. Write down your vet’s advice as it is provided, as well as any questions you have. Consider holding your questions until your vet stops speaking, so you can get a “big picture” idea of the plan before adding your input. Ask for a follow-up email to summarize the advice and instructions.
Know The Limitations
Some things just can’t be achieved over the phone. Physical procedures, diagnostics like x-rays and bloodwork, and complete examinations just can’t be done by phone. After your telemedicine appointment, your vet may still request to see your pet in person. They may also refer you to a specialist, or emergency clinic for in-person care. This is not a failure in telemedicine, but an opportunity to get your vet’s focused attention, and create an organized game-plan prior to the in-clinic appointment. It opens up the option to do drop-off appointments, and streamlines the entire in-clinic experience. Regulations prevent veterinarians from providing prescription medication to pets outside of the state/province they’re licensed in. Vets are also required to have performed a recent in-person physical examination of a pet before providing a prescription. In most cases, this means within the last 12 months for generally healthy young pets. For older, or sicker pets, the requirements for physical examinations are more frequent. These regulations are in place to prevent errors that could endanger the life or health of your pet.
Make sure to keep your veterinarian in the loop about how your pet is improving. Advise them of any changes in your pet’s condition, positive or negative. Inform them of any side effects you are noticing during or after treatment. If the condition resolves, let the clinic know. Be honest about your ability to follow the instructions given. If you are unhappy about your pet’s progress, make sure to let them know, so that appropriate adjustments can be made. Ask your vet to recommend a follow-up schedule. Email updates are fantastic, because they can be added directly into your pet’s medical record.
If your vet has never mentioned or offered Telemedicine options before, do not hesitate to ask. Veterinarians are innovative and adaptable. Most importantly, they are invested in providing the best care possible, even during uncertain times.