Just like the year 2020 brought a number of changes to our lives, so too did drastic changes take place in the veterinary world. Almost overnight, pet parents were able to spend an extraordinary amount of time with their pets. By doing so, they were able to notice subtle changes to their pet’s health and behaviors, leading many to seek the counsel of their local veterinarian. Other individuals decided to introduce a new member to their family by adopting or purchasing a dog or cat (many for the first time) which also led to an outsized demand for veterinary services.
At the same time, the pandemic forced many veterinary clinics to temporarily stop seeing patients or resort to curbside services, placing a significant strain on their capacity.
Telehealth to the Rescue
Prior to the pandemic, some of us may have been familiar with the term “telehealth” or “telemedicine”. Technically, we’ve probably all used some form of telemedicine – if your doctor has ever sent you information or provided services electronically, congrats! You’ve participated in the world of telemedicine. Veterinary telehealth services, however, have not been as common. The idea that you could download an app, register, and within minutes (sometimes seconds!) connect with a licensed veterinarian was still fairly new to pet parents. Yet as the demand for veterinary services soared and the availability of in-clinic veterinary services dwindled, many telemedicine platforms began to enter the U.S. landscape to fill the gap.
For the RV community, telehealth is a natural fit for a large portion of your pet’s needs no matter where you are. While visits to a clinic will always be necessary for certain procedures or obtaining certain prescriptions, contacting a veterinarian virtually can resolve a number of quick or simple questions. Oftentimes, pet parents will resort to social media or Dr. Google for answers, however, we would advise folks to be wary of the source of advice. It is imperative that the advice comes from a licensed veterinarian that has the experience and education to provide evidence-based information and instructions to assist you and your pet, tailored to your situation.
What services can telehealth provide? For starters, telehealth can provide emergency “teletriage” – the ability to discern whether your concern requires a visit to the emergency room right away, a non-emergent visit to a veterinarian, or whether it can be resolved using remedies at home. At FirstVet, we tend to see about 65% of consultations get resolved by steps the pet parent can take at home. Why does this happen? Simply because pet parents will have the best intentions and want the best care for their pet, but may not feel confident whether something is a critical emergency or not. This is understandable, and hence why telehealth provided by licensed veterinarians is so valuable.
Secondly, telehealth can point you to resources to gain further education about the issues surrounding your pet. With over 700 articles published by FirstVet veterinarians, Harvest Host members have access to qualified information that is scientifically sound.
Thirdly, telehealth can also provide product recommendations and prescriptions (state regulations permitting) to meet the needs of your pet. Currently, up to seven states allow for prescriptions to be obtained virtually (online) allowing you to skip the line to the vet.
Telehealth + RV Community = Match Made in Heaven
The pandemic has also seen an explosion in the demand for ownership of RVs. Plenty of examples include the desire to travel safely, maintain social distance, and/or avoid air travel were all contributing factors. As pandemic concerns waned, the RV community continues to grow as the paradigm shifts as now, many once-office workers now have the flexibility to work remotely. But what about RVers’ pets? Some surveys indicate that nearly 70% of RVers bring a pet with them.
As a licensed veterinary technician that lived full-time in an RV during the pandemic in an emergency department, and now transitioned to a career in the veterinary telemedicine world, I wish I could sing from the building tops about how useful telehealth is to the pet parent!
Oftentimes, when I worked in a physical clinic, I would try to triage a non-urgent appointment over the phone with a pet parent relaying guidance from a veterinarian without an in-person visit; with recent caseload increases in the clinic, time didn’t allow in-depth follow-up calls. One particular circumstance that always comes to memory is the time an elderly woman received a diagnosis of diabetes for her pet. She didn’t understand how the medications worked, what foods to avoid, and in fact, was testing her pet’s glucose incorrectly. Her experience in the clinic had been rushed and she just needed some extra time and attention to learn how to care for her pet in light of the diagnosis.
Telemedicine would be a perfect fit for this owner. She could bring all her information with her to the virtual consultation, at a time convenient for her, and conduct it from the comfort of anywhere! Moreover, she could attend several consultations as needed while she and her pet adjust to their new way of life. (Most telehealth companies offer unlimited access with their subscription plans 24/7, 365 days a year) Lastly, her consultations and electronic medical records could be forwarded to her primary veterinarian so as to keep him/her informed.
While RVing, pets can get into all kinds of trouble: toxin ingestions, lacerations or cuts, human medication ingestion, ear infections from swimming, tummy upset from lake water, or foreign material ingestion. Having a telemedicine provider readily available gives pet parents access to care that may not otherwise be available in as timely a fashion or close by when traveling. Beyond emergency triage, telehealth platforms are now providing other tools that can assist the RV community by providing preventive care to their pet while on the road, including heartworm and fecal testing, diagnostics for sudden sickness, ear infection testing, and even urine testing, with many diagnostic laboratories rapidly adding additional tests that for the longest time could only be provided in a physical clinic.
Want to give telemedicine a try? Use code HARVESTHOSTS when you download the FirstVet app and get 14 free days of telemedicine when you sign up for our yearly plan. Cancel Anytime.
Deanna Lewis is a Licensed Veterinary Technician living on the Eastern Shore that has an interest in geriatric pet care, pain management, and emergency medicine. She has lived full-time in an RV for three years but has been an avid camper her whole life.
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