Animals, just like human beings, do get critically sick at odd hours. And the owners are often unable to access relevant services especially at night to rescue their acutely sick animals.
The impact of Covid-19 seems to have facilitated the uptake of telemedicine, making virtual care a possible gamechanger in veterinary medicine.
Veterinary medicine is not comparable to human medicine. And one big difference is that veterinary patients cannot talk, making physical exams necessary.
In many countries, veterinary regulations require that veterinary surgeons (vets) establish a relationship (a Veterinarian-Client-Patient-Relationship or VCPR) with the animal and also the person responsible for the animal. And it's a relationship that must originate in person for effective diagnosis.
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, many countries have introduced the remote prescription of veterinary medicines. And now, veterinary advice can still be given when no VCPR is present.
For example, a veterinary telemedicine start-up, AniVet Hub, launched earlier this year by two innovative Kenyans is raring to provide on-demand virtual video consultations between animal owners and any Kenya Veterinary Board-registered vet anywhere in the country via a mobile application.
It is estimated that more than 95 percent of animal health issues go unaddressed. AniVet Hub wants to help veterinary clinics remove barriers to pet owners accessing virtual veterinary expertise, in a similar version as 'Dr Google', advice from various Facebook groups, or simply "hoping for the best" as the first response of a pet owner facing a pet issue— thus expanding veterinary patient advocacy opportunities.
Many vets across the globe have found ways to incorporate virtual care into certain niches, such as behavioral consults, hospice and palliative care, triage and more.
Some clinics are already seeing its potential. Because it will help them make real time decisions and to determine whether an animal needs to be seen as an emergency or if the problem can be handled during daytime hours.
Some of the benefits that virtual care is bringing are: improved access to primary and specialty care, decreased stress for pet owners, and opportunities for vets to work from home even when they are on parental leave or while recovering from an illness.
With the introduction of telehealth, what has come out is that most clients now prefer to receive virtual care services from their own vets. And now, many vets are considering ways to incorporate these visits into their daily workflow. Virtual care visits are therefore another way to reinforce the bond and trust between a vet and clients.
For the health and well-being of vets, clients need to understand that their vet is not accessible 24/7. Using a telehealth platform can help to better define these boundaries.
Vets can make themselves available on a virtual care platform or create a schedule for virtual appointments. Clients can be diverted from messaging the vet via text or social media and instead engage in a virtual visit.
If the vet is not available, some platforms can further arrange for an urgent-visit request to be diverted to another colleague within the platform who might be able to provide general advice. And non-urgent requests can be handled when the vet is available.
Virtual care can be a tremendous aid for anyone having difficulty accessing veterinary care. It is best for underserved populations, not only for financial reasons but also because of their geographic location, weather issues, cultural or language barriers, transportation problems, or physical disability.
Like most things in veterinary medicine, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Virtual care is no different. We can use it and use it wisely.
The Kenya Veterinary Board needs to develop new regulations in this space to encourage further innovation.