What is veterinary telemedicine?

15 May 2020

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the use of telemedicine for remote consultations with human health providers and veterinarians, so just what is telemedicine and how does it work with pets?

In a veterinary context, telemedicine refers to the use of telecommunication technology to undertake a remote consultation between a vet and an animal, without the patient being physically present at the veterinary practice. A telemedicine consultation offers the opportunity to discuss with your local veterinarian any health concerns you may have about your pet or livestock.

COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, veterinarians are considered an essential service which means veterinary practices can remain open to provide health care for pets and livestock. However, with the strict social distancing guidelines currently in place due to the pandemic, veterinary telemedicine can help reduce the risk of the spread of COVID-19 by reducing the number of people visiting a veterinary practice in-person.

Veterinary telemedicine involves the use of a video communication platform, and there are many different versions used by vets. During the COVID-19 pandemic, if you have concerns about your pet or livestock, whether in relation to an illness or injury, in the first instance you should contact your veterinarian to seek advice. If your vet recommends a telemedicine consultation, they will then provide you with the information on how this will occur, what costs will be involved and schedule a time for the consultation to occur.

In other circumstances, there are also various online platforms available where you can speak with a veterinarian via a video telemedicine consultation. The vet may or may not be from your local vet practice, and the service may be limited to triage of the animal’s health condition and veterinary advice around whether you physically need to consider attending a veterinary practice for veterinary treatment.

Guidelines on veterinary telemedicine

The guidelines around veterinary telemedicine vary between the Australian states and territories, because acts of veterinary science are governed by the relevant state or territory veterinary surgeons boards. These guidelines are the minimum standards expected from a veterinarian, and vets must also comply with the relevant state or territory legislation around prescribing medications, documenting patient records and providing continuity of care to a patient. 

If you currently have a regular vet that provides health care for your pet, then this ongoing relationship is important when vets consider the guidelines for how veterinary telemedicine can be used. In any case, the veterinarian will use their professional judgement in regards to advising you if telemedicine is appropriate for your animal.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some veterinary practices may also be utilising a modified form of telemedicine whereby, after initially ringing the veterinary hospital to book in your pet, you may then be advised to bring your pet to the practice. A staff member will then collect your pet and take it through to the hospital treatment room for assessment by the veterinarian. The veterinarian will then contact you via telephone or video-chat to discuss your pet’s health condition further.

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