I live on a real-life working farm. Oh no, not that kind of farm, it is a horse-farm. It still keeps me busy stacking hay, feeding, cleaning stalls and taking care of the animals. I don’t need to buy an expensive John Deere to do my work!
I have had many encounters with vets over the years and I have also had many two hour trailer rides to take a horse to a specialist in the Twin Cities to take care of some critical issues. I have even lost a horse because we couldn’t get to the specialist in time just to find out that the local vet, if told what course of action could have been taken once the specialist saw him, could have saved our horse.
People are attached to pets, and that is what my horses are, big dogs that don’t live in the house. They are part of the family and anything we can do to get them the help they need, we will do! See how getting to a specialist a lot soon than a two-hour drive is saving countless animals around the globe.
I have to admit that when the idea of writing this blog came up, the subject seemed somewhat silly to me, as maybe it does to you at first glance. Telemedicine for pets? They can’t even talk on the phone! Can you imagine Cesar Millan, “whispering” to a puppy with separation anxiety over a video call? Now that would be some “must see TV!”
Upon a little reflection however, I quickly understood the advantages of utilizing telemedicine to mitigate the barriers of time and distance in efficiently administering veterinary care. There are a few key factors that when considered, make veterinary care the perfect candidate for improvement through video teleconferencing technology.
- Veterinarians are relatively scarce. It is easier to get into Medical School in the United States than it is to get into Veterinary School, just by the sheer fact that there are less Veterinary Schools nationwide. As such, veterinarians are relatively scarce. In fact, there are over 912,000 licensed physicians in the US while only 65,000 veterinarians in private practice (nearly 40% of veterinarians actually work in research). Telemedicine allows these scarce veterinary resources to be used more widely and efficiently.
- Distance to specialists. It is widely agreed that rural populations benefit greatly from the advent of telemedicine, giving people needed access to physicians that may not be local and/or easy to get to otherwise. Imagine you own a horse ranch in a remote region of Wyoming. Given that there are only 3600 equine veterinarians in the US to begin with, what are the odds one is close to your ranch? However the odds are extremely high that one will be close to phone and internet service.
- Rural population ratios. Here is something else to consider. In rural areas livestock and other animals may outnumber human populations by more than 50 to 1. All of a sudden telemedicine becomes even more important in making sure that these large populations of animals have access to an extremely small number of veterinarians.
- Potential Impact. I am in no way minimizing the loss of a pet. I understand that companion animals carve out spaces deep within their owner’s hearts and that losing one can be a traumatic experience. I also know that the loss of a friend or relative has the potential to cut much deeper, so on the surface, telemedicine for veterinarians may seem less important than for doctors. However, if you think about the impact a cow with and infectious disease could have on the rest of the herd if not diagnosed and quarantined in a timely and appropriate manner, you quickly realize that there is a potentially huge positive impact telemedicine would have in these situations.
- Easier Billing. Unfortunately, one hurdle to wider adoption telemedicine has faced in the past is the difficulty of assuring and securing payment for these services from the insurance carrier (imagine that!) In most cases however, veterinary care is not dependent on an insurance approval, as the care is paid for by the individual instead. Sure there are a select few that have veterinary insurance, but most are paying out of pocket with discretionary income.
So there you have it! Five reasons that telemedicine is an amazing fit for veterinary care, despite the fact that animals can’t talk on the phone. I can now definitely see the value of a future where portable tablets with cameras facilitate conversations between ranchers in the field and veterinarians located elsewhere.
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About Bob Higginbotham
Bob Higginbotham, CTS-I, CTS-D, is the Avidex National Manager of Healthcare AV. Bob has spent his 30 year career in leadership positions in the AV industry including extensive design and build work in healthcare facilities. He owned and operated a successful AV business in Texas with multiple offices in several cities where he managed a staff of over 100 employees. Bob has served as a technical consultant for a major AV manufacturer, led the technical sales team for a national video conferencing provider and provided technology auditing services for several private education facilities. He has a unique working knowledge of audiovisual technology as well as multiple certifications in audio engineering, acoustics, AV design, CQT system commissioning and video transmission systems. Bob holds a BA in communications and has recently served as board chair for a large private school. He brings his years of technical knowledge and leadership experience to Avidex where he leads the national healthcare AV team. Contact Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org