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Offering Telehealth Appointments During COVID-19: Lessons from the Field

By Alanna Chesney, DVM, CVA

Approximately a year ago, I—an associate veterinarian at a 15-doctor practice—approached my boss about starting telemedicine (now calling it telehealth, like all the cool kids do) in our practice. He was supportive, but he wanted to be sure we did it correctly. With the help of a few colleagues, we researched companies, comparing and contrasting their various features. While my focus was on telehealth, we chose to go with a company that included telehealth, rather than one that focused exclusively on it, and now I am so happy that we did. While tech-savvy clients certainly are looking for telehealth options, I think that limiting to telehealth alone probably would have been a mistake. 

I’ve learned a lot since we began offering telehealth services, including:

  • Set a timer — If you make yourself available for large blocks of time, set a timer or calendar reminder so you don’t miss the appointment.
  • Send clients a message before the visit — Ask them to collect videos and/or good-quality photos of the problem.
  • Prepare for an in-person appointment ahead of time — If, during the telehealth appointment, you conclude that the client still needs to bring the pet to the practice, make the estimate before they arrive. That will help to reduce the time they are actually at the office, or outside the office if you are doing curbside appointments.
  • Set your telehealth appointments with a 24-hour pad time — This will allow you to examine the pet’s file and history, see if they are due for refills while they are there, and ensure there is a current veterinary-client-patient relationship (VCPR), assuming that is required in your state.
  • Use a messaging tool — Google voice is a great “free” option for messaging if you can’t afford your own app, but there can be a delay based on your internet service. Also, you cannot set an autoresponder to Google, so ensure clients know not to use that number at other times. I found video a little distracting, so I prefer the text or call telehealth options, but each person will have their own telehealth preferences.

We chose to provide telehealth services to our clients at no charge during the COVID-19 crisis. Pet owners appreciate it, and it gives me an opportunity to do some work from home and lighten the load on the vets who are physically in the office seeing urgent cases. Our plan is to roll out a subscription option or a pay-per-use after the pandemic passes. I think this technology will benefit our practice as a whole in the long-term, and it will make clients feel that they have more options. My personal doctor uses telehealth frequently, and I appreciate knowing it is available as an option to me. If doctors who only practice on one species can do it, veterinarians can, too!

👉 In search of more tips? Be sure to check out this video about getting started in telemedicine with Vet2Pet’s Telemedicine Coach, Dr. Crista Wallis.

Alanna Chesney, DVM, CVA is a veterinarian and certified veterinary acupuncturist at Downtown Veterinary Associates and Animal Infirmary of Hoboken located in New Jersey. She also teaches at the American Museum of Natural History and occasionally at various camps and schools. Dr. Chesney has been a valued technology partner with Vet2Pet since January 2020.

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