There have been so many changes in our world due to the COVID-19 pandemic; it's been interesting to see how we've adjusted. Wearing a mask in public places felt awkward and foreign at first, but now we grab masks like we grab our phones or keys before heading out the door. In veterinary practices, socially distanced “curbside service” started as an unusual and somewhat bizarre method of providing patient care, but now it’s become almost … normal.
Curbside service isn’t the only way that vet practices have been adjusting. Many practices are now trying remote telemedicine.
This service allows established clients to have minor issues evaluated and treated in the comfort of their own homes (or in their cars, on the beach, wherever their laptops or mobile devices can get a good signal). (In Georgia, those physically examined in our practice within an 18-month period -- relaxed from the usual 12-month restriction due to the pandemic. Check with your state veterinary board for their rules and restrictions.)
At my practice, we’d kicked the can down the road on this method for more than a year prior to massive shutdowns, so fortunately had it in place before the need struck. As the primary remote veterinarian for my practice, the majority of cases I’m seeing are skin or ear issues (usually a result of environmental allergies), mild pain/arthritic issues, urinary issues, or acute gastrointestinal issues. Sometimes our clients simply want to know if they should bring their pets in for the problems they are noticing; they appreciate having a sound, educated recommendation before heading over. It’s been a saving grace for our practices, and practically every day a client tells us how grateful they are for the convenient service.
Reach out to your veterinary care provider to see if they offer telemedicine; and if so, what days and hours is the service available, what costs are involved, and how does that cost affect the need for a future in-hospital visit if necessary (some practices will offer a credit toward an in-office exam that follows a remote consultation). It is also appropriate to ask if the veterinarians performing the teleconsults are your vets or those employed through a third-party provider. And if the doctors on staff at your vet will be handling the cases, are you allowed to request a particular vet? All good information to know beforehand. If your vet does not offer telemedicine, find out if they intend to -- or if they have suggestions/recommendations as to where you can take advantage of such a service.
Telemedical consults are best suited for noncritical cases that are not emergencies. The visit can be accomplished with a simple texting session, or with a video chat if necessary. For more serious medical issues, a true visit to your veterinarian is almost always the best option. Head to the vet office for issues like:
- Deep lacerations
- Eye issues (particularly those involving injury to a single eye)
- Extreme weakness or lethargy
- A loss of appetite or other gastrointestinal issues that exceed a 48-hour period (or if a bloated abdomen, which should be physically evaluated as soon as possible)
- Nonweight bearing lameness
If you aren’t sure which way to proceed, don’t hesitate to go “old school” and actually call your vet -- on your phone -- for guidance and recommendations.