How virtual services can help pets and overworked vets
Concerned about your pet’s immediate health but short on time and worried about vet costs? An increasing number of New Zealanders are finding telehealth the answer.
As an emerging animal healthcare concept using live video communications technology for remote consultations, veterinary telehealth offers potential benefits for pets and pet parents. It can even benefit overworked, stressed out vets themselves.
Of course, it’s not a replacement for quality in-person testing, treatment and care by your local vet, but it can be a useful stopgap.
PD Insurance (pd.co.nz) partner and pet research charity Healthy Pets New Zealand (HPNZ) says an online service should be seen as complementary to a normal vet-client relationship.
HPNZ Chair and veterinarian Dr. Catherine Watson explains, “Pet telehealth services are very useful if you’re unsure if it’s necessary to visit a vet or not, or you need advice on doing the right thing. However, by law, an online service can’t prescribe medication – only give advice – so it’s no good if diagnostics are required, for emergencies, or if a prescription is needed.”
What’s telehealth and what’s it good for?
Telehealth is one of those great ideas that has made obvious sense for human healthcare, especially during COVID lockdowns. The internet pervades all aspects of our lives, and now free video communications technologies like Zoom and Teams make virtual connections easy.
What about applying it to pet healthcare? It’s already underway and increasing in popularity. Telehealth services have received a considerable boost with the pandemic – and are likely to become a permanent fixture as they deliver efficiency gains.
Being able to ask quick questions of a qualified professional about your pet’s health, without having to spend time travelling or away from work, bring great relief.
There are limitations, however, which means telehealth for your pets (or even for you) should be used as and when appropriate. Telemedicine can’t replace the value of an in-person / in-canine / in-feline visit. Good doctors, whether tending to the health of humans or fur kids, treat the patient and not the disease.
Seeing is believing and the best option will always be Fido on the examination table so Doc can check gums, eyes, ears, mouth, stomach and more. But life comes at all of us fast, and sometimes you need help quickly and at a reduced cost.
Subscription services ease pet parenting costs
Beyond vet consultations and advice, internet-led pet health extends to month-to-month subscription services for common remedies and essentials like pet food, deworming regimes, flea treatments and pet insurance. Even pet toys can be delivered monthly on subscription.
Pet parenting comes at a cost, and these services can spread out the bills to make it easier to afford the things your pets need for a healthy and happy life.
“Subscription services are a great idea for making sure people never run out of the essentials for their pets. They’re made for busy people or those who don’t want the hassle of having to remember when to top up on essentials,” is Dr. Watson’s take.
Virtual help at hand for overworked vets
It’s not only fur kids and pet parents who benefit from the efficiencies offered by virtual vet and pet services. Particularly in Auckland but also across New Zealand, vets are overworked, stressed and don’t have enough hours in the day.
A recent media report described Auckland vets are ‘in crisis’, noting that several clinics have been turning down new clients for routine treatment simply due to lack of capacity.
Dr. Watson says this is a great worry for all involved – pets aren’t getting the healthcare required, vets are concerned about animals going untreated, and pet parents are anxious their fur kid’s wellbeing is at risk.
“Telehealth means a qualified vet can provide advice and triage the pets that do need an in-person visit from those that do not. This helps optimise health delivery and potentially reduce the load on over-stretched resources,” she says.
An artificially intelligent future?
Taking the concept of telehealth easing workloads even further, an innovative Kiwi company has introduced an artificial intelligence (AI) virtual vet nurse who gives advice, helps with bookings and generally streamlines work for veterinary clinics.
Dr. Watson believes the concept has huge potential for the future, saying, “Because it’s AI, the advice given will be standardised and delivered in an interactive way, but with the backup of the ‘real deal’ – as in vets and vet nurses – when the need arises.”
“It has significant potential to reduce the workload for practices under increasing pressure.”
Leandri Smith – The Mail Room
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