Veterinary Telehealth: The Basics

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​Telehealth, spurred by the rise of digital communications technologies, presents both opportunities and challenges for healthcare providers, including veterinarians and their staff. Understanding key definitions is important as you decide whether and how to implement telemedicine in your practice.

Telehealth

Telehealth is the overarching term that encompasses all uses of technology to deliver health information, education or care remotely. Telehealth can be divided into categories based on who is involved in the communication.

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For communications between veterinarians and animal owners there are two important categories that are distinguished by whether a Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship (VCPR) has been established: telemedicine, which is client-facing, includes the delivery of information specific to a particular patient and is allowable only within the context of an established VCPR; and non-client-facing models that involve delivery of general advice, telemarketing, and advertising.

Telemedicine

Telemedicine is a subcategory of telehealth that involves use of a tool to exchange medical information electronically from one site to another to improve a patient's clinical health status. Examples include using Skype or a mobile app to communicate with a client and visually observe the patient for a post-operative follow-up examination and discussion. Telemedicine is a tool of practice, not a separate discipline within the profession. The appropriate application of telemedicine can enhance animal care by facilitating communication, diagnostics, treatments, client education, scheduling, and other tasks. Practitioners must comply with laws and regulations in the state in which they are licensed to practice veterinary medicine. Telemedicine may only be conducted within an existing Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship, with the exception for advice given in an emergency care situation until a patient can be seen by or transported to a veterinarian.

Teleconsulting

Teleconsulting is a subcategory of telehealth in which a general practice veterinarian uses telehealth tools to communicate with a veterinary specialist to gain insights and advice on the care of a patient.

Telemonitoring

Telemonitoring is remote monitoring of patients who are not at the same location as the health care provider. This could range from the use of a portable glucose monitor to a wearable monitoring device that captures the patient's vital signs and other behaviors.

Tele-advice or Teletriage

Tele-advice, or teletriage, is the provision of any health information, opinion, guidance or recommendation concerning prudent future actions that are not specific to a particular patient's health, illness or injury. This is general advice that is not intended to diagnose, prognose, treat, correct, change, alleviate, or prevent animal disease, illness, pain, deformity, defect, injury, or other physical, dental, or mental conditions. Examples include recommendations made by veterinarians or non-veterinarians via phone, text or online that all pets should receive annual wellness exams as part of a comprehensive preventive care plan, or that animals living in mosquito-infested areas should receive year-long heartworm preventives.

E-prescribing or electronic prescribing

E-prescribing, or electronic prescribing, is a digital-based electronic generation, transmission and filling of a medical prescription, taking the place of paper and faxed prescriptions. Requirements for prescriptions can vary from state to state, and also depending whether they involve controlled substances. In general, veterinary prescriptions should be handled in the same way, whether on paper or in a digital format. Veterinarians interested in e-prescribing should check both state and federal requirements.

mHealth or Mobile Health

mHealth, also called mobile health, is a subcategory of telehealth that employs mobile devices. Some mHealth applications and wearables are designed to augment animal health care within Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationships, while others are designed and marketed directly to consumers for their education and animal monitoring without clinical input (no VCPR).

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is it legal for veterinarians to provide telemedicine services?

Yes. Veterinarians can offer clients telemedicine services as long as they have established a

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Where can I find federal and state laws and regulations on veterinary telemedicine?

Each state has its own veterinary practice act, so the best place to start is to contact your

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What types of telemedicine services are veterinarians offering today?

The benefits of teleconsulting, such as an attending veterinarian consulting with a boarded

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What types of telehealth services can be provided outside an established VCPR?

If no VCPR exists, the veterinarian or any other veterinary care professional can only offer

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Can veterinarians charge for telemedicine services?

Yes. As long as a VCPR is established, veterinarians can provide and monetize telemedicine services.

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How do I find a reputable telemedicine service provider?

The AVMA has established a Policy on Telemedicine to help veterinarians

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Do telemedicine service providers require separate liability insurance coverage?

In most instances there are no special requirements for liability insurance when it comes to offering

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How can telemedicine benefit my practice?

Telemedicine, when conducted within an established VCPR, provides clients access to veterinary care in a

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What makes telemedicine different from medicine in general?

The standard of care is the same whether telemedicine or in-hospital care is delivered.

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What services can be provided through telemedicine?

Any service is possible with telemedicine as long as a VCPR is in place, and the attending veterinarian

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What equipment is needed for telemedicine?

The technology built into most smartphones, tablets and laptops provides the necessary audio, visual and

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How can I get paid using telehealth?

Telemedicine service providers make it easy for you to conduct high-quality telemedicine consultation and

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