Jill Seuss, DVM, was watching her son’s cross country meet on a recent Saturday when she examined a client’ s cat – and the cat was nowhere near the vet.
Dr. Seuss was using a piece of software called Petriage, one of an increasing number of tele-medicine applications that let vets and their staff check animal conditions without actually being in the same room as the pet. Tele-medicine, which became more popular among human doctors and their patients during the pandemic, seems to be gaining popularity among vets and animal owners.
“I don’t know if it’s for everyone,” says Dr. Suess, who is an enthusiastic user of Petriage at her practice in Rochester in eastern Washington state, where she has a day dedicated to tele-medicine. “Some older people, who you’d think would be hesitant, have embraced it. And some millennials, who you’d think would own this, would rather come in the office.“
Dedicated tele-medicine apps connect the pet owner, the vet, and the animal’s records that are stored in the vet’s computer system. With Petriage’s phone app, for example, the owner answers a series of questions about the cat’s condition. Then the vet – or even a vet tech – can look at the answers, any pictures the owner might send, consult the cat’s records, and text with the owner to figure out what’s next. Depending on how serious the condition seems, the vet can recommend an immediate office visit or schedule something for later using the clinic’s appointment system – all with a couple of swipes on the phone app.
The emphasis, says Petriage spokesman Jeff Zilker, is on screening and not diagnosis. Most pet ailments aren’t emergencies, so the software’s aim is to help a vet decide if the condition is serious enough to warrant an emergency visit, or if it can wait until later for a complete exam. A panicked pet owner who sees their cat repeatedly circling the litter box might imagine the worst; texting their vet over Petriage can turn that worry into something more manageable.
In this, it’s difficult to gauge just how popular vet tele-medicine has become over the past year, since it has typically been such a small part of the pet experience. But the Food and Drug Administration, which oversees federal animal drug regulations, issued updated guidelines for vet tele-medicine to make it easier to use during the pandemic. In addition, the American Veterinary Medical Association urged its members to consider expanding the use of tele-medicine during the pandemic. This came as fewer people were able to get into see vets thanks to heightened health and safety procedures during the pandemic, which cut the number of available office visits.
Still, says Dr. Suess: “I think we need to use it more in my practice – I need to be able do it five days a week.”