Telemedicine For Your Pet: All the Deets

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Tune in as Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder, and Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, Veternarian, Author, and Consultant at PawCurious, to talk about using Telemedicine for your pet. The do’s, the don’ts, and the musts.

This video is part of the Pet Voices LIVE series. CLICK HERE to see the full schedule of videos.

INTRODUCTION

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 0:06

Welcome everybody to Pet Voices LIVE. Today we are talking about telemedicine for your pet. We are so lucky that we have Dr. Jessica Vogelsang with us who is the telemedicine expert in the sense that she’s been working with it and she’s been just in it and knowing about it for a while. So she’s kind of like this go to expert who’s super busy about it right now. And she’s a veterinarian, an author, and a communications consultant. She lives in San Diego and she runs the site, Pawcurious. You can pretty much find her anywhere and everywhere as Pawcurios. Jessica, thank you. I should call you Dr. Jessica here or Dr. V.

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, Pawcurious – 0:42

Dr. V. That’s the easy one!

WHAT IS TELEMEDICINE?

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 0:47

All right. Dr. V. Well, telemedicine especially in the world that we’re living in now feels really really important for people to understand. So I think we should just start there. What really is it?

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, Pawcurious – 1:01

Yeah, and you know, it doesn’t seem like it should be challenging, but it is, even in the veterinary community. We’re getting really, really confused because technically, from a legal perspective, when you say telemedicine, you mean I talk with my doctor, they make a diagnosis, and I get a prescription like very, very specific the practice of medicine. But a lot of us sort of use it interchangeably with all this other stuff that we can do online. So when you call the nurse advice line and you just talk to them, or if you do a quick follow up with your doctor and they’re not prescribing something. They have other technical terms, but it’s all kind of this big umbrella of telehealth.

And so, it doesn’t seem like it should be important, but it is because when our doctors aren’t even clear on what they’re offering to you, and you’re not sure what you’re asking for, they may actually be offering something and not even know it. So you say “Hey, are you doing telemedicine?” and they say “No,” but you just wanted to talk to somebody on video and they can do that. So it is important that everybody’s on the same page.

I’ve just been telling people don’t even use the word just say, “Hey, do you do video calls? I don’t want to leave the house right now.” And that becomes a lot easier. They’re like, “Oh, you want that thing. Okay, yes. I can do that.”

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 2:15

And that’s in essence. I mean, I think the world has sort of kind of gotten on the bandwagon of video calls in general. And that’s really what it is because you need to be able to at least see the pet and the vet, so that there can be a more open conversation that involves like… There’s just something about seeing people and I’m sure that as a vet, when you can see the person, what they’re saying, and the pet that it elevates a phone call to something where you can ask the right questions, get more information, and be able to do some of the diagnoses that are possible via video chat. What are those?

WHAT CAN BE DIAGNOSED VIA TELEMEDICINE?

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, Pawcurious – 2:56

So it’s challenging because every vet has a different comfort level and most of them are really low right now. Because it’s so crucial in veterinary medicine to have that hands on because there are things that… They can’t talk, right? So when your MD is doing a telemedicine call with you, you can have a discussion about symptoms and it’s gonna be a lot harder with an animal. So without being able to actually put your hands on the pet, you still want to at least be able to see things, so that’s why vets prefer doing the video calls or at least send me a video. We want to see how the animal looks and how they’re walking.

And so most of the vets that are using telemedicine in that way and doing those calls, they’re doing it for a problem that they’ve already diagnosed. So they’re following up. This is your monthly check in with your diabetic cat… that sort of thing. Or skin issues… We call them “Derm.” Any sort of skin issues, those tend to be particularly well suited to telemedicine. So, depending on your doctor’s comfort level, they may be able or willing to say, “Yeah, I’ll take a look at something that looks like a hotspot.”

But then you have this large number of things that are still going to require a visit no matter what. We can’t x-ray your pet over telemedicine. If they’ve been vomiting or they need injections or to be hospitalized, they’re still gonna have to come in. But our goal, especially right now, when everybody’s in a lockdown, is to minimize your exposure to other people.

We are not concerned about getting COVID-19 from our pet. That just hasn’t been documented anywhere. But we’re concerned about each other, right? So we’re trying to minimize that contact and keep you at home. So whatever we can do to help you inside your house and keep you from having to either come to us or go to an ER for something that is considered relatively minor. That’s sort of the line that we’re trying to walk right now.

HOW TO USE TELETRIAGE FOR PETS

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 4:51

And do you know… you mentioned this earlier that just the word telemedicine is sometimes a little confusing. So if we call it “video chats” with your vet, is it something that anyone watching right now and might have a question, is that what they should do? Call their vet and say, “Do you do video chats?” And if they don’t, what are our options?

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, Pawcurious – 4:13

So, and this is really interesting, and everybody’s sort of going through this learning curve together.

Anybody in the world can offer you general advice. Down to the random person on Google to your own. And so the quality of that advice is going to vary. The best quality advice, of course, is going to be from the doctor that you know, who already knows you, and knows your pet. And then on the other end of the line, you’ve got Google, which is like who the heck knows. And then in the middle, there’s actually quite a large number now of service providers.

The technical term for them is teletriage. It would be the dog or cat equivalent of a nurse advice line. They’re staffed by knowledgeable people, technicians or veterinarians. They’re not associated with your clinic, but what they can do, which is super, super helpful, is tell you… is this an ER problem? Is this an “I need to call my vet in the next day or two” problem? Or is this a “That’s not a tick. That’s a normal nipple” problem. Which is, for whatever reason, one that we get a lot. Don’t go to the ER for something like that. And we want to be able to help you not have to do that.

But it’s kind of interesting, because I think a lot of veterinarians even aren’t aware that there is this educated group of people right there in the middle, that are doing this independently. And so if you can’t get a hold of your vet… Obviously, they’re still going to be the best source of advice. And instead of saying, “Do you do video consults? Do you do telemedicine?” I would just start with, “I’m having this problem. What do I do?” Because that’s really what everybody wants to know. How you handle it doesn’t matter nearly as much as how quickly you need to handle it and who needs to handle it. So that’s what the triage and the advice lines are intending to fill the gaps on.

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 7:01

And do most vets know? So say I call my vet and I say, “Hey, I’ve got an issue. My dog is pooping blood.” That’s a big one, right? If I call and say something, they’ll probably want me to come in. I happen to know my dog has some issues. And sometimes has that happen. And it’s an easy tear thing that he has, so it’s actually less of a concern, but I know that and so it’s one of those, “Here’s what it looks like right now. Do you think it’s still this?” So like your follow up. But if my vet doesn’t do the video, would they be able to say to me, “Here’s some numbers to call” or is that kind of on me to go do that research and find them?

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, Pawcurious – 7:44

It’s one of my goals and it’s one of the reasons I get like four hours of sleep at night is I’m trying to make sure that more vets are aware of that. A lot of them aren’t and so if they are, great, but if they’re not, just know that these services are available.

I think Ask.Vet right now is offering free services because the COVID-19. I’ll have to double check on that. Ask.Vet, whiskerDocs, and Petriage are the three that come to mind off the top of my head that specifically offer that service direct to pet parents, which is super awesome.

And so that’s the other thing, right? A dog who has a bloody poo… If I don’t know your dog, my default is always going to be, “Go in!” But there’s a big difference between “This is a bad scene.” or “It’s a tiny little streak, one time a week ago.” So you want to be able to differentiate that, so that’s why we have these people who can ask the right questions like “How much blood? What are we talking? Have you treated for it before?”

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 8:47

That all makes sense. And I think you’re right, a lot of pet owners and pet lovers, we just get worried and we don’t know what to do. So having that access to just ask the questions, so we feel like we’re making educated decisions. Because I think everybody right now, especially with this concern of the person to person… not the pets to person, but the person to person potential of spread. You do want to minimize how many people you have to be in contact with, so if I don’t have to go in, I don’t want to but I also want somebody who I trust to tell me that.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR TELEMEDICINE AND VET CARE?

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, Pawcurious – 9:27

Yes, absolutely. And so your vet is still going to be the best source of that. And that’s one of the things that I think we will probably see some changes afterwards. Right now, a lot of vets are doing curbside drop off, which is great. Keeps you safe. So you drive up there. You wave. They come and take your pet and you guys don’t interact, but we don’t want that. That’s not ideal, right? So afterwards, it’s going to go back to the normal thing where you get to go in the room, but having that ability to do those intermediate conversations with your vet… that’s something that I’d like to see more vets offering.

If you’re not sure whether or not you should come in, and this is a question, I’d love actually to hear everybody’s feedback, because what vets keep saying is, “Clients won’t pay for that. They won’t pay for me to get on the phone, talk to you, and let you kind of know whether or not I think you should come in. They will only pay if it’s a full visit.”

And that’s not really what we’re seeing. With the vets who are offering it, especially when you have a great relationship with your clients, they understand that you’re taking time and you know the history and you’re having these conversations. Anybody who wants to validate that claim, please go with me here and back me up because that’s how we get more of them to offer it. Because I think a lot of them perceive like “I just gotta spend all my time on the phone and videos, just talking.”

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 10:52

Going back to my situation again, because I have a dog who’s got all these… Any issue, he just kind of has it.

And so he has specialty vets. And if I could make it so that… because often what will happen is we’ll go in, they’ll draw blood, we’ll have like this talk about how he’s doing, and then we leave. And the next day, she calls with the results. And we have a conversation, right? If there was a way, and she’s a little bit far away, if there was a way where I could take him to my local vet to just do the blood draw and have it sent off, and then she gets the reports, and we just have that conversation. And all of a sudden, what was like a two hour thing turns into a 20 minute thing. I would absolutely still pay for that.

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, Pawcurious – 11:31

And that’s huge. That’s another thing that we’re trying to sort of get more vets aware of is this idea of like teleconsults. And so from a legal perspective, you can absolutely do that. And it just means… does that specialist have a relationship with my vet? And the cool thing about that if your regular vet is… One. they’re looped in. You want them to be looped in, right? And two, that specialist can be anywhere. It’s not just like a state by state thing. And so because they’re the ones that are consulting and your vet is the one who’s directly interacting with you. They could be talking to a specialist anywhere in the world.

I always think about this. I am a veterinarian, but I also do the same thing. I have to go to specialists just like everyone else. I’m like, “Oh, my whole afternoon.”

PET INSURANCE AND TELEMEDICINE

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 10:52

Yeah. It is a big endeavor. Luckily, I love him, but it’s an endeavor.

So when it comes to cost and all of this, one of the questions that’s come up is, “Is this covered by insurance?” And I know it’s so new that I don’t know there’s one answer. I think it probably depends on your insurance. I do know that Embrace recently announced they were going to start covering telemedicine, I don’t know what that entails. Have you seen any signs on what that might look like related to pet insurance?

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, Pawcurious – 12:49

So if you look at it as following the human model, which it probably will, they should cover it. I’m anticipating that they’ll cover it. One, because as an insurance company, you want to keep costs low. That’s a good way to do it. The one thing that I’ve seen almost all of them cover, which is really cool, but you should ask about it… is what I was talking about before, the advice lines.

And so if you already have pet insurance, ask them because it may not be super obvious, but they like having that too. And that way, you don’t even have to pay for the service. You can call a contract with whatever and they can tell you whether or not it’s an emergency. And so that’s between you and your insurer completely independent from the vet. But that’s really awesome that they cover that.

And then I don’t even know if the pet insurance companies had considered it because it was just not a big deal until like two weeks ago. And all of the ones that I’ve seen asked have decided, “Yes, we want to cover that.” Why wouldn’t you?

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 13:51

I know. To me, I think there’s a barrier between understanding how it works less than understanding like this is actually a time saver, and could still be a way to earn… I could see it being a way for vets to earn money, for people maybe on a case by case basis to spend less time and potentially pay a little bit less for a 20 minute consult versus the 15 minute appointment or whatever it is. So I think there’s a lot of opportunity there.

I know you’ve had some concerns over what California is doing. And I want to give you a minute to talk about that because I know we have a lot of people in California.

CALIFORNIA TELEMEDICINE LAWS

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, Pawcurious – 14:31

That would be great. And I would very much appreciate that.

So you guys might have seen the news story about the FDA relaxing the rules about telemedicine and it was spoken about as if now it’s all free and clear. And that’s not true. Because it’s like you got mom’s rules and dad’s rules and they both have to agree. So if the FDA says telemedicine is fine, but your state’s like “No, no,” you still can’t do it. And what most states have done especially now in the emergency… They’re like, “Okay, if you are already an existing client,” which usually means your vet has seen your pet in the last year, “then and only then you can continue to use telemedicine.” So a lot of them are still like “Eh, I don’t want you to meet a vet for the first time over the computer.”

They let you do it with your MD, but not with your pets, which is kind of weird. So with your regular vet, you can do it in most states. But California is also one of those states, but then they sent out this email saying, “Well, yeah, they have to have seen your pet and it can only be for that problem that they’ve already seen your pet for.” So if you’ve been going in every month, because you have an allergy dog, and then all of a sudden they get a little skin infection. Technically, they’re saying no, you can’t do that.

And so I decided to start a change.org petition and really make my colleagues love me, but I do want people to help me because this is the thing that a lot of people don’t understand when it comes to something like a veterinary medical board. They’re not there to advocate for what veterinarians want. They’re here to regulate us on behalf of you, the consumer. And so I can complain all I want. And I actually don’t have nearly as much value in terms of my opinion as you if you’re a resident of the state of California.

So you can submit a letter and I can give you where to send it. That would be super helpful for me. Directly to the board. They have a hearing coming up. Consumer Affairs is the one that’s on top of the board. So if you guys say, “Hey, I want this. I can do it for my baby, and I can do it for my grandma. I’d like to be able to do it for my dogs.” So I think it’s something that would really help.

LEARN MORE ABOUT TELEMEDICINE

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 16:52

We will share that here in the comments. And as we’re wrapping up here, Dr. V, tell everybody where they can find you because I know you’ve got sites and social and podcasts and books all those things.

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, Pawcurious – 17:01

Gosh, I’m all over the place. The easiest place to find me as you mentioned is through my website, Pawcurious. That’s pawcurious.com. That’s my Facebook and my Twitter and my Instagram and all of that. I do have separate platforms for the areas where I speak to other vets. That’s drjessicavogelsang.com and my podcast is another thing entirely, but it’s like medical myth busting, and it’s a little more tawdry, but we have fun. And that podcast is called What the Woof.

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 17:31

Perfect. Well, thank you so much for being here and anyone, if you have further questions, post them here in the comments, and we’ll be sure we get you some answers.

And in the meantime, if you’re in California, watch for that link so that you can help Dr. V get the petition through and let them know that you want telemedicine for your pet. And call your vet. Check in to see what they offer.

Alright. Thanks, Dr. V. Thanks, everybody. Goodbye.

 
For more information on pet telemedicine and Dr. V at Pawcurious:

Petition for Veterinarian Telemedicine in California – Change.org

Website – pawcurious.com

Instagram – @pawcurious

Facebook – Pawcurious

Twitter – @pawcurious