Help from home – are remote consultations here to stay?

The coronavirus pandemic has not only attributed to a long-lasting backlog for veterinarians but has forced the industry to evolve its methods to meet client demand as capacity in practices needed to be reduced.

Virtually all veterinary practices across the globe have had to implement additional measures or policies due to the coronavirus outbreak which meant less clients were permitted on site and birthed this increasing need for remote consultations and telemedicine appointments.

Data from our 2020 VetsSurvey found that 33% of vets asked pet owners to call beforehand to assess the need to visit the practice, while 45% admitted they asked clients to wait outside while a member of staff brought the client’s pet into the practice.

These figures highlight how the pandemic has not only slowed the consultation process for vets but also tried to reduce the number of clients arriving in person, and, while necessary to limit the spread of the virus, it has only further delayed the consultation process.

The virus did not diminish practices’ intention to stay in contact with clients however and in fact saw a sharp rise in various methods they used to remain engaged with them.

Just over half (52%) of vets surveyed said they communicated via email more with clients now than before coronavirus.

Older methods such as communication via phone actually increased substantially as well, as 65% of vets that we surveyed globally said they communicated via phone with clients more now than before coronavirus.

Just under a third of practices (30%) increased their social media output via Facebook and around 16% admitted they had done so on other platforms.

If this method develops into the “new normal”, this may not necessarily be a bad thing.

According to VetTimes, a new AI software has predicted that as much as 80% of consultations could be manageable at home.

The study conducted by app-based veterinary service Joii, found that the majority of cases it dealt with throughout the coronavirus pandemic did not require a follow-up and could be dealt with remotely.

Remote consultations have not been limited to apps like Joii, however.

Some practices, such as Gortlands Vets in Belfast, The Veterinary Health Center and those part of the Priory Veterinary Group, have started to offer remote consultation services themselves.

As Zoom reported a jump from 10 million users to over 200 million in three months, veterinary practices, such as those listed above, made appointments over the teleconferencing app and even over WhatsApp, an option for pet owners.

The PDSA announced in August that it had conducted more than one million remote consultations since the start of the pandemic.

Despite their usefulness during the pandemic, remote consultations are not perfect and have had their critics. There has been an ongoing debate about prescribing medicines remotely without having physically examined an animal.

However, there has been no evidence so far to suggest that animal welfare has been compromised with this method.

It will be most interesting to see if other practices join those that are already offering online consultations and if app services continue to attract pet owners.

Whether veterinary surgeries will find more alternative ways like WhatsApp and Zoom to consult patients remotely also remains to be seen.

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