Maintaining momentum: telemedicine and other technology advances are here to stay

The changes we’ve had to make due to the pandemic give us the opportunity to restructure vet med with a focus on innovation and personal wellness.

Prior to the pandemic, veterinary medicine was already changing, but the challenges brought forth by the outbreak have quickened its evolution. The growth of telemedicine and the development of curbside service have transformed where and how we offer care to our patients. As the profession moves forward, some old routines will return, some new ones will be created, but we can and should use this opportunity to push for positive changes.

In this new world, telemedicine is going to be integral to how care is delivered. Pet owners have enthusiastically adopted it and are not going to give it up willingly. In 2018, JAVMA published a study on digital post-surgical rechecks which showed that “owner-reported satisfaction with the recheck examination did not differ substantially between the telemedicine group and control group” and that pet owners would preferentially pick digital appointments in the future.1

Many veterinarians discovered the benefits of telemedicine during COVID, but the advantages were present before, and still extend into post-pandemic practice. As Tim Atkinson, Executive Director of the New York State Veterinary Medical Society puts it: “If you think of being able to charge someone for a consultation — the alternative was by phone. You didn’t make any money and you didn’t manage to see the pet. Now you can actually see the pet and earn a fee. So, I think people will find this valuable and will carry on”.

As we envision the future, we have the opportunity to realign practice values. The status quo of previous generations may not reflect the vision of a more diverse field of veterinarians. Recently, personal and mental health has started to achieve the attention it deserves. With only 24% of veterinarians under 34 recommending their job to friends, it’s time to make a change.2 Technology, like telemedicine, can set boundaries for when and how vets interact with clients, allow flexibility around where care is provided, and reduce workplace stress through tools for improved time management and communication. Clearly, not everything can or should be done remotely, but we’ve learned the definition of an exam room is more fluid than we previously thought. By being able to charge appropriately for our time and expertise, we are reinforcing our value, not only within our practices, but to our communities as well.

Now is not the time to return to the way things were out of habit. It’s time to lean into new technology as we did with electronic medical records, digital radiography, and the other tools that each, in turn, revolutionized the practice of medicine. Veterinary medicine started as equine practitioners for the cavalry. We are now honorary members of many families and have vital roles in industry, policy, and on the One Health stage. The adoption of new technology, like telemedicine, wearables, and the integration of large scale data analytics, is necessary for the evolution of the field as a whole. Our next challenge is to help our profession recover and find its way “for the benefit of society”, our colleagues, and our patients.

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1Bishop G, Evans B, Kyle K, and Kogan L. “Owner satisfaction with use of videoconferencing for recheck examinations following routine surgical sterilization in dogs”. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2018;253(9):1151–1157.

2Lau E. “Survey: Majority of veterinarians don’t recommend the profession”. VIN News 2018; Feb. 6. Accessed at: https://news.vin.com/VINNews.aspx?articleId=47603.

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