Last month veterinary medicine was something most clinics just couldn’t conceive of.
And here we are.
So in the span of just a few days, clinics are having to upend their entire business model, panic-calling telemedicine platforms trying to integrate new apps, and doing their best to stay ahead. It’s confusing and scary, but as someone who’s been pushing this concept for years to empty rooms, I have a message for you:
You can do this.
Here’s some things to keep in mind, especially if you’re already overwhelmed:
You do not need to bring in new platforms.
You can integrate a telemedicine service if you want to, but remember what they are: communications tools meant to make things easier, more convenient, and more integrative. They are great, but they are not NECESSARY.
You can provide health advice and provide telehealth services with the equipment you already have, or with inexpensive services like Zoom and Google Hangouts. It takes more steps, but it is an option. (Check out Brandon Brashear’s webinar for more on that.) You have options.
You do not need to start with the hard stuff (like telemedicine).
Technically, telemedicine means diagnosing and prescribing using remote means- ie without the physical exam. That’s still a stretch for a lot of people, so rather than starting on that end, start on the easy side. “Telehealth” encompasses everything from phone calls to social media posts to text messages. Telehealth has been part of your life forever, so think in simpler terms:
How can I use technology to create physical distance without eliminating the exam?
- Curbside pickups. Literally, texting or calling you to say “I’m here” is telehealth.
- Triage: You can 100% provide general advice online without a VCPR. What does that mean? It means you can take that 20 minutes of time your techs gave away for free deciding if Mrs. Jones needs to come in or not and turn that into a virtual session.
- Online forms: patient history is a huge part of the intake. Consider taking some of that intake online.
- Follow ups: Get your clients used to video visits. Get yourselves used to video visits. Get them used to you charging for your time.
“We do telemedicine” is not an either/or.
Telemedicine is not appropriate for all cases. It never will be. Doctors always reserve the right to define their use cases, as they should. The beauty is each doctor can define their own comfort level with remote visits.
Most places who do use telemedicine are using it for triaging cases, dermatology, chronic stable health issues, and uncomplicates surgical followups.
Communications may be one of your biggest telehealth components.
In times of uncertainty, people are going to be looking to you for advice. Keeping them apprised of your status, how you’re handling visits, and helping them know what to expect is a huge source of comfort for pet owners in uncertain times. Every post on social media, every blog post, every newsletter and website update is an important and helpful use of telehealth principles.
Do the right thing.
If you have an already-established VCPR, states are good with you doing telemedicine (always double check, situations change). But let’s say you’re just not ready to do that. No worries.
Practicing telemedicine- diagnosing and prescribing- is really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of all that you can do leveraging technology. Always come back to the prime directive of telemedicine:
Improving patient outcomes. Our historical moment is changing what is possible minute by minute. We’re all going to be faced with some tough decisions, but let’s do what we can to support one another and muddle through.
I’ve got a lot of information I’ll be rolling out in the coming weeks, but in the meantime please join me at my new Facebook group Veterinary Telemedicine Association (https://www.facebook.com/groups/VeterinaryTelemed) for open discussion about the ways people can make this work. I’ll also be compiling as many resources as I can to help you.
We are in the early stages of some big changes. We’re going to be asked to be flexible in ways we never have before. Take small steps if you’re not ready for big ones. You got this.
Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer or a regulatory agent – check with your state board for the current rules and regulations.