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The Pros and Cons of Veterinary Telemedicine

In the event that your pet experiences a medical emergency, it’s hard to know what to do as a pet parent when you have limited information at home.

Telemedicine—a healthcare practice that involves a doctor providing medical advice remotely to a patient through telecommunication technology—is one possible solution that has gained traction in recent years for its convenience.

“You shouldn’t feel alone when you have a veterinary problem, regardless of what day it is,” Dr. Shadi Ireifej, founder of VetTriage, a global veterinary telehealth company, told the Mella Moment.

Dr. Ireifej founded VetTriage after observing that even though the front desks of veterinary clinics were inundated with phone calls from concerned pet parents, vets were often busy with their own patients on site and couldn’t answer in time. VetTriage was born from a desire to direct these parents away from less reliable sources like the internet and towards educated professionals in times of emergency through telemedicine.

“When done appropriately, with correct medical standards, it is a fantastic way to figure out if your pet is experiencing a medical emergency, or if there is some way to band-aid the problem until you can go to the vet clinic,” he said.

But what exactly are the advantages and disadvantages of the telemedicine movement, and how do they affect the quality of animal care? Let’s take a closer look at some of those pros and cons. Additionally, to learn even more about the origins of VetTriage and Dr. Ireifej’s own journey through veterinary medicine, check our episode on technology in the veterinary industry with him on the Mella Moment podcast!

The convenience and efficiency of telemedicine is a huge benefit. In times of potential emergency, getting a professional opinion quickly could assuage fears if the issue isn’t serious and help manage milder symptoms, or clarify the nature of the problem so that in-person care can then take place. As a result, telemedicine services may be cheaper than in-person visits.

Increased accessibility is also a plus: telemedicine can make it easier for pet parents to receive medical advice when distance or other circumstances might normally pose a barrier. Where local services might be limited, telemedicine gives pet parents access to more holistic, comprehensive advice. Additionally, during the pandemic, telemedicine can also help pet owners who are quarantining get the help they need without putting anyone’s health at risk.

At the same time, Initial impressions about a pet can be wrong if there’s no physical examination or laboratory test to confirm them. This could lead to a potentially dangerous misdiagnosis. Moreover, since pets can’t speak up for themselves about their symptoms, pet parents can sometimes misinterpret the signs they see when reporting them to a vet, which would in turn make it harder for the pets to get the help they actually need.

Ultimately, although telemedicine likely can’t replace brick and mortar veterinary clinics entirely, hybrid models of care could be in the near future. We’ve already seen that telemedicine can enhance communication, when there is an existing veterinarian-client-patient-relationship, and provide critical advice in times of emergency. But more broadly, for Dr. Ireifej, these trends are all part of a larger shift in pet health that “puts more power in the hands of pet owners.”

References and related reading

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