Eleanor Green, DVM, DACVIM, DABVP, and Richard Markell, DVM, MRCVS, MBA, spoke about telemedicine at the 2021 AAEP Convention in Nashville, Tennessee. Green began by announcing the “unbelievable potential” of telemedicine in the veterinary field, and reminding attendees that “we’ve already been doing it for a long time” by citing the examples of health devices characters used on the early television show Star Trek, and real-life astronauts’ health being remotely monitored 60 years ago while they were in space around the Earth. She continued with statistics from the human medical field, where “the natural development of medicine in a virtual world” has led to a flurry of telehealth developments so widespread that it is inevitable that people will expect the same level of care for their animals in the near future.
By April 2020, the speaker cited, 97% of physicians were utilizing telehealth, and in rural areas its use jumped 54%. The number of Medicare recipients receiving care by remote means increased from 13,000 to 1.7 million per week, she related. With regard to satisfaction, 75% of physicians said it provided better patient care than in-person visits, because the patients could be seen in their home environments, where additional information could be observed. Three-quarters of patients expected their doctors to provide telehealth appointments, 85% were very satisfied with them, and 50% would change primary caregivers in order to have the opportunity for video visits, Green reported.
In human medicine, video appointments are an additional source of revenue that adds to the bottom line. It is seen by doctors and patients alike as efficient, reliable, convenient and accessible. And it allows routine care anytime and anywhere, she said.
According to Markell, based on questions asked during an AAEP Table Topic the day before the presentation, equine veterinarians are slow to adopt telemedicine because they have been giving it away for years for free, and they are averse to changing how things have always been done for fear of losing clients.
The top concerns of veterinarians about adopting telemedicine include regulatory liability, client acceptance, staff adoption, technology and cybersecurity.
Green opined that client acceptance and staff adoption are already there, because as human patients they have likely already experienced the convenience of this type of care.
As far as liability, she directed people to simply inform their liability insurance carrier and become familiar with state laws, as the VCPR is regulated at the state level.
She shared that a new organization—the Veterinary Virtual Care Association—has a regulatory map that shares all 50 states’ regulations, as well as a Quick Start Guide to help people navigate starting telemedicine in their practices. With technology fears, she suggested that some veterinarians will not want to provide telemedicine due to concerns, and some clients won’t want to receive it for the same reasons, and that’s okay. Others that are digital natives will easily fill this gap.
Other exciting developments in telemedicine include the development of wearables for monitoring pain, vital signs and/or position in patients. Telemedicine examination kits are now available for humans that allow remote assessment of heart, lungs and other body systems, and soon we will have these for animals as well, Green said.
In conclusion, Markell said, “This is not a fad. It’s here to stay!”
While it is a valuable addition to the continuum of care, he said “it will not, and should not, replace in-person visits.”
Green added, “Telemedicine will not replace veterinarians, but veterinarians who use telemedicine may replace those who do not.”
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