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What is the value of telemedicine to your practice?

By MWI Animal Health

Embrace technology for flexibility and convenience for your staff and clients

The veterinary industry, like many others, has seen a dramatic shift in recent years with the rise of technology-based solutions such as telehealth. This innovative tool not only provides an effective response to staff shortages but also introduces flexibility and convenience for pet owners and your team. 

Navigate staff shortages and boost flexibility

Managing staff shortages in veterinary clinics is an unfortunate reality. According to research by Mars Veterinary Health, clinics could face a shortage of up to 24,000 companion animal veterinarians by 2030. That doesn't include veterinary technician and client services shortages.

With limited personnel, practitioners and staff often find themselves juggling administrative duties with their efforts to provide quality care to patients, which can impact the level of services offered. Consider how busy your staff is. What if they didn't have to clean exam rooms in between patients? What if some phone calls were texts instead, saving valuable time? What if they could perform some tasks from home?  That might improve retention and recruitment. Grow your reputation as an employer of choice. Give your DVMs more chances to connect with pets and focus on the reason they chose to join the veterinary field.

A telemedicine solution can offer an effective way for veterinary practice owners to address staff shortages while keeping their commitment to high-quality pet care. "The veterinarians who are already innovative in their mindset and who look to solve problems day to day, they will be the early adopters," says Dr. Crista Wallis, DVM, owner of Monticello Animal Hospital in Shawnee, Kansas. She is one such innovative practitioner, having offered some form of telemedicine to her clients since before the pandemic. She advises making sure staff aligns with the concept of telemedicine and gets their questions answered before making any changes.

Talking to fellow veterinarians who have successfully launched telemedicine programs presents a great learning opportunity. There is no "one way" to offer telehealth services, and each practice will probably differ in its approaches. Still, engaging with peers can lead to lightbulb moments. For her part, Dr. Wallis felt so encouraged by the results of telemedicine at her practice that she wanted to motivate other practitioners and wrote a book, Beyond the Clinic Walls.

Telemedicine solutions offer flexibility by facilitating tasks such as communication, discussing what a patient may need to come in for, and potential treatment plans, client education, and scheduling. These features help practitioners improve the efficiency of their practices without compromising patient care. Staff can triage medical issues via video consult, and off-site veterinarians can alert staff in the office to what they can expect before the animal arrives, streamlining the intake process.

As Dr. Wallis says, "We have enough data out there on telehealth now to know that it's not harmful to practice online medicine and we can use our professional minds to discern whether or not something can be treated online or whether it needs to come into the hospital." The purpose of telehealth is not to replace in-person visits completely. Instead, it serves as an enhancement to those necessary consults and an additional option for certain types of visits.

However safe and effective telemedicine is, if the corresponding software's setup is poor and disconnected platforms are present, it can end up taking longer and becoming less efficient. A telemedicine solution that integrates seamlessly with existing systems like a retention calendar allows for smoother operations and better time management — a win-win situation for today’s busy practitioners.


Create multiple touchpoints with clients

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of telemedicine in the veterinary field. What began as a safety measure has continued due to its convenience for clients. By integrating a telemedicine solution into practices, veterinarians can create multiple touchpoints with clients that extend beyond traditional face-to-face interactions. 

Telehealth services go beyond video consults. At first, Dr. Wallis felt baffled when her clients did not engage with her telehealth offering. An encounter with her Gen Z niece who continually texted her friends made Dr. Wallis realize that current pet owners didn't need to look at their veterinarian to get questions answered. "I started using asynchronous chat platforms, and that took off like wildfire," she says. Her practice met pet parents where they were, using the tools they already engaged with in everyday life.

Offering telehealth services signifies a commitment to enhancing client relationships. In fact, according to an ASPCA survey, two-thirds of pet owners would see their veterinarian more often if telehealth was an option. Using a telemedicine solution, veterinarians can leverage multiple touchpoints, including scheduling appointments, sharing medical records, and conducting video consultations. These lines of communication foster stronger relationships, improve animal care, and ensure clients feel involved in their pets' healthcare journey. 

Discharge instructions are a prime example of how virtual communications can create stronger client bonds. Recording a video of post-operative care instructions for common procedures, like spay or neuter, only needs to happen once. The result can then reach pet parents via email or online platforms so they can access it as many times as they need. Staff saves valuable time when they don’t need to repeat instructions, time which they can redirect to other relationship-building or revenue-building activities. Picking up a pet after a procedure can involve heightened emotions. When discharge instructions are in writing and not just verbal, clients can review them on their own time when they feel less stressed.

With telemedicine, patient access and permissions vary depending on where you practice. This useful map explains the regulations and the basis for establishing the veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) in each state as it pertains to virtual visits.

With a telemedicine solution or service, all clients need is Wi-Fi or a cellular device to get access to the veterinary care their pets need. When deploying new services like telehealth offerings, clear communication with pet owners about how they work — including what platforms they will use and minimum requirements for connectivity — is essential. This is also a good time to reassure clients that these platforms are secure and their personal data will remain private. Providing this information upfront helps clients make informed decisions about trusting your practice with telemedicine.

Pet owners embrace telemedicine

Telemedicine brings healthcare directly into clients' homes — making veterinary care more accessible than ever. It’s no wonder the demand for telemedicine among pet owners continues to rise. Clients who live in rural areas, and therefore further away from clinics — and clients who work in jobs that make it harder to take time off — are just two examples of demographics that might readily use telehealth. In an era when convenience is of high value, telemedicine provides efficient ways for busy pet owners to access healthcare for their pets. It has become more than just a trend — it reflects shifting client expectations that veterinary practices must acknowledge.

With telemedicine, you can grow your reputation as a client-friendly practice. Consider the time and stress that may occur when taking a pet to an appointment. Missing work, transporting nervous pets, sitting in traffic, worried you'll arrive late. What if pet owners could connect with you remotely? That might influence their decision to pick your practice over a competitor. And their pets would stay compliant with necessary treatments.

Because telemedicine looks different to different people, consider surveying your current clients before jumping in. Would they like telemedicine? And which format are they most likely to use? As Dr. Wallis learned, a disconnect can arise between what pet parents expect of telemedicine and what your practice expects. Getting on the same page before launching services can ease some of these growing pains.

This way of approaching care also adds revenue streams to your practice. Dr. Wallis recalls at first feeling uncertain clients would balk at paying for online consultations. To her surprise, no one pushed back.

Another unexpected positive outcome from telemedicine for Monticello Animal Hospital was an improvement in client compliance. Clients were more willing to bring pets in for follow-ups after first engaging with their veterinarian about the issue online.

Telemedicine is a valuable tool for today’s veterinary practices. It addresses the pressing issue of staff shortages while providing flexible solutions that enhance operational efficiencies. By creating multiple touchpoints, it enriches client relationships and ensures a comprehensive approach to pet care. "I can say wholeheartedly that myself and my staff, we probably would never go back to practicing medicine without it," says Dr. Wallis.

As the demand for such accessible and convenient services increases, integrating telemedicine into veterinary practice becomes more than just an innovative strategy. It's essential to meet evolving client expectations and stay competitive in this digitally advanced era.

Imagine a better client experience

Grow your reputation as a client-friendly practice and gain an edge over competitors