How to Set Up Telemedicine in Your Practice
As practice managers everywhere continue facing the restrictions of COVID-19, the ability to practice veterinary medicine remotely is becoming more popular. Stay-at-home orders and limits on the number of people permitted in one location have made setting up a telemedicine practice essential. Here's what you need to know about getting your practice set up.
Telemedicine Is Essential During COVID-19
When practicing telemedicine, a veterinarian renders medical judgments specific to a patient and can prescribe medication as treatment. Practices with telemedicine setups can virtually assess patients in their home and have them brought to the practice for definitive treatment and/or medication pickup.
The benefits are obvious right now — when practices are only accepting emergency visits and clients are ill or self-quarantined, they still want their veterinarian to evaluate their pet. Telemedicine allows clients to socially distance while staying connected to their practice and receiving care from someone they already know and trust — making practice managers look like rock stars.
Telemedicine technology can be adapted to every practice's preferences. Some of the ways that practices use it include to:
- Evaluate suture lines.
- Check superficial lesions.
- Reevaluate lameness.
- Use it as a recheck method.
- Triage or help clients observe the entire exam and treatment while they wait in their cars.
Not only is telemedicine safer for everyone involved, it also eliminates extensive, non-revenue producing telephone time. With telemedicine, practices can capture revenues in an area that was once deemed an impossible-to-monetize drain on resources.
Telemedicine's Legal Requirements
Before making any decisions about implementing telemedicine in your practice, you need to know where the law in your state stands. While teleadvice and teletriage are legal everywhere, many states restrict telemedicine to those with a veterinarian-client-patient-relationship (VCPR) — defined as having physically examined a pet within the year.
However, many states are relaxing the VCPR requirement during COVID-19. This makes it temporarily possible for practices to offer telemedicine appointments to new clients or clients who haven't been seen in more than a year. Before embarking on a telemedicine journey, check the law in your state to always remain within legal bounds.
How to Choose a Telemedicine Provider
Any telemedicine system typically requires four basic features:
- A way to schedule appointments.
- A way to communicate.
- A plan for documenting the interaction.
- A way to collect payment.
Some features can integrate with your PIMS, which saves the time and effort of entering patient data and manually tracking information. But you have so many choices — to find the right provider that will fit your needs, here's a list of questions to guide you:
- How will you use telemedicine for any new problem or just for rechecks?
- Will you be offering it to clients at home or also to those waiting curbside?
- Do you need something temporary or long term?
- Will you be offering consults after hours, too?
- Is your goal client retention, client acquisition, or just a COVID-19 workaround?
- Do you require an integrated payment feature?
- Are you OK with a DIY call approach, or is a third-party web- or app-based platform preferred?
- Would you like to access patient records remotely through integration with your PIMS?
- Do you want patient data to be entered automatically?
- Do you want clients to book their own appointments?
- Would you like notes or a recording of the video consultation automatically saved to the medical record in your PIMS?
How to Set Up Telemedicine in Your Veterinary Practice
For most veterinary practices, the basic steps for setting up your new service will be nearly identical:
- Choose a provider. Use the provided questions to choose the right provider for you. The American Veterinary Medical Association put together a list to get you started. Anipanion, Rapport, PetDesk, Medici, AirVet, TeleVet, SmartVet, Vetstoria, PetLine, PetProConnect, and VetNOW are among the most popular platforms on the market. Most services offer free trial periods and limited contracts
- Get your gear in order. Do you need a dedicated telephone? Tablets? A monitor at a specific desk? Ask your provider for tips on the equipment you need and how to set it up.
- Integrate with your software provider. Not all telemedicine services offer this, but it's a great way to increase efficiency and free up valuable time, so the team can focus on providing patient care rather than entering data. Integration may take a day or two, depending on your PIMS and your technology provider.
- Take a test drive. Learn what you need to know to get started, but don't expect to be an expert before you embark on your telemedicine journey. Trust that you'll learn as you go.
- Train your team. Set up a dedicated in-house team to focus on telemedicine cases (one receptionist, one technician, and one veterinarian, for example). Take some test drives together and solve any problems that arise.
- Communicate new protocols to clients. Telemedicine success stories abound, but so do examples where a tepid client's response killed the team's confidence and ended the initiative. Prevent this by regularly communicating with clients about your new workflow — send personal messages with pre-appointment directions for downloading the app, for example, and use social media to provide general pet care advice and remind clients that you're there for them.
The key to success is to maintain a positive mindset and stay flexible. Don't let a couple of rough starts get you down. Remember that technology is just a vehicle. Excellent patient care is what it's really all about.