Telemedicine is the delivery of health care services when the doctor is at a separate location from the patient. By using technology including cell phones and computers, doctors are able to consult with patients. Medical care is delivered from a distance through the use of modern technology. There are several benefits from the utilization of telemedicine. There is a savings of both time and money. Barriers to access of medical care are lowered for rural and underserved areas. Telemedicine is a more affordable option which gives clients the freedom to consult with their doctors more frequently. Having easier access to high quality medical care provides clients with peace of mind.
Both the military and NASA have used telemedicine since the 1960s. In the last several years, human telemedicine has become more common and familiar. With the rapid speed of advanced technology, the use of telemedicine to deliver health care remotely has increased. Studies show telemedicine is effective at improving clinical outcomes while decreasing utilization of inpatient services. Patients who have experience with telemedicine report a high level of satisfaction especially in areas such as mental health and management of chronic disease. Utilization of telemedicine provides health care providers the opportunity to remotely deliver medical care improving patients’ access as well as outcomes.
Veterinarians are beginning to embrace telemedicine technologies due to advances in consumer-friendly technology as well as the successes in the delivery of human medical care via telemedicine. Recognizing it is another tool available to practices to facilitate veterinary care, not replace onsite care, more veterinary practices are interested in telemedicine. As an example, using Skype or an app a veterinarian could visualize a patient then communicate with a client for a post operative follow up examination before discussing next steps.
Most states require an existing veterinarian-client patient relationship or VCPR. A VCPR allows a veterinarian to diagnosis, prescribe medication and treat a patient for each condition a pet has. As an example, if a pet has been seen recently within 2 weeks by a veterinarian in person for a skin problem, a follow-up may be possible via telemedicine for the skin condition only. If a new condition occurs such as an ear infection, another in-person examination will be required.
Federal law requires a VCPR for prescribing extra-label drugs for pets and issuing veterinary feed directions. Under the VCPR, the veterinarian assumes responsibility for her medical judgment. A VCPR provides the veterinarian adequate knowledge of a patient to make a preliminary diagnosis. Benefits of a VCPR to a client is the assurance the treating veterinarian is available for follow up treatment or has made necessary arrangements for emergency coverage as well as continuing care and treatment. Tennessee requires a relationship between the veterinarian, client and patient be established before the veterinarian can offer clients a telemedicine option.
Potential opportunities where telemedicine would enhance the service clients receive in traditional veterinary care include: post-operative follow up; skin issues; behavioral issues; hospice care; transportation issues; basic triage; environmental concerns or hazards; chronic disease maintenance care as well as long term care monitoring. Offering telemedicine to clients and patients allows veterinarians to deliver care from a remote location. Telemedicine enhances accessibility, improves client communication, saves time and is a cost effective alternative to veterinary care delivered in house.