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October 15, 2021

Veterinarians still warming up to telemedicine

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Dr. Greg Bishop believes veterinary telemedicine has the potential to, among other things, promote animal welfare, reach unserved pet populations, and appeal to tech-savvy pet owners.

And yet the small animal general practitioner from Portland, Oregon, believes many veterinarians are, for now, unlikely to embrace telemedicine in any serious way, seeing it as inferior to traditional hands-on examinations.

Dr. Bishop thinks that’s a mistake.

Dr. Bishop and canine friend
Dr. Greg Bishop

Studies show “clients are really happy with telemedicine and are willing to pay for it. What we lose out on in terms of certain clinical aspects, we make up for by not stressing out animals by coming to the veterinary clinic,” explained Dr. Bishop, who spoke during the session “Veterinary Telemedicine: What’s the Evidence?” on July 29 during AVMA Virtual Convention 2021.

He also referenced a handful of surveys showing most U.S. and European veterinarians see telemedicine as incompatible with veterinary medicine. In addition to concerns relating to profitability and the legality of prescription writing, veterinarians’ primary complaint was that animal patients cannot be properly diagnosed via a video stream, text message, or email.

Dr. Bishop’s own research suggests the recent surge in veterinary telemedicine offerings is temporary. Working with the Veterinary Information Network, Dr. Bishop fielded a survey in fall 2020 of small animal practitioners in North America measuring the prevalence of telemedicine usage during the pandemic. While the survey confirmed a spike in the number of practices conducting visits via videoconference (42%), most respondents said they would no longer offer the service once public health restrictions are lifted.

“So the tendency was to use it (telemedicine) to get through it (the pandemic) and then be done with it,” Dr. Bishop explained. “And even of those affected by the restrictions, less than half were using this technology, which to me is a surprisingly low percentage.”

Dr. Bishop sought to allay some of veterinarians’ concerns about telemedicine during his presentation. For starters, he cited two surveys, from 2018 and 2020, that found people were willing to pay between $38-$40 for a virtual visit with a veterinarian. Though admittedly low, the fee is notable in light of the 2011 Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study that found a sizable proportion of U.S. pet owners cited cost as the reason why they didn’t take their pets to a veterinarian.

“It’s actually an advantage that a telemedicine visit would be cheaper because it’s accessible to a lot of people, and there’s a lot of people that need that,” Dr. Bishop said.