Vice President of Media Strategy, NAVC
Patricia Wuest was the Vice President of Media Strategy at the NAVC until retiring in 2022.Read Articles Written by Patricia Wuest
Telemedicine can streamline the workflow in the practice or hospital, provide flexibility for clients, improve work/life balance for veterinary professionals, and boost a practice’s bottom line.
One major reason for embracing telemedicine, even after the COVID-19 crisis is past, is due to the spending power of millennials and how they prefer to communicate. There are currently 80 million millennials in the United States, and each year they spend approximately $600 billion. They are five times more likely to adopt technology than any other age group, and 60% support the use of telehealth options.1 Generation Z — who were born in 1995 or later — make up 26% of the U.S. population. By 2020, they’ll make up a third and contribute $44 billion to the American economy.1 This generation is tech-savvy and digitally connected 24/7.
Incorporating telehealth tools into veterinary practices seems like a no-brainer in this current environment, but for clinics and hospitals that didn’t employ them before COVID-19 — or didn’t charge for those types of services — pricing them raises a lot of questions. For example, should a video consultation fee be priced the same as a physical exam in the hospital?
Telemedicine is not a one-size-fits-all model. Veterinarians interested in offering telemedicine services can customize a program that fits the unique needs of their individual practice and clients. A variety of models and vendors offer services to help veterinarians implement telemedicine tools.
There are non-VCPR companies, such as Whiskerdocs, ask.vet, Vet Chat and PetCoach, that basically answer pet owners’ questions, which can help create efficiencies in your practice.
PetPro Connect, which is is Boehringer Ingelheim’s virtual care app offering that provides video, texting and instant messaging options for vets and pet owners, is free for clinics – not just during COVID-19 – since the platform launched last year. VitusVet, TeleTails and Medici, also give pet owners access to a video consultation with their veterinarian. Practitioners can direct their clients to download the mobile app, which is often customizable to the individual hospital, and when the client needs a consult, they simply type in their information and see whether their doctor is on call and available to do a video consult. At least six of these companies —BabelBark and AirVet (in partnership with Zoetis), GuardianVets, TeleVet, Elanco’s VetNow and TeleTails Instant— are now offering their services free to veterinary clinics to help offset the impact of COVID-19.
If you choose an outside vendor, make sure it records and tracks the information gathered into your practice management software so that it becomes part of the patient’s permanent record.
Some vendors offer backend technology services for a flat monthly fee while others provide compensation based on actual services provided.
You can also add telehealth services on your own and track and bill them manually.
The choices for offering “in-house” professional telehealth services include:
(1) An added benefit of a wellness package
• In addition to this option providing benefits such as video consultations that lead to in-clinic appointments, it offers convenience for your clients
(2) Per service menu (e.g., video consultations, post-procedure followups, etc.)
• Services would be priced individually and clearly communicated
Tips for Pricing Services
• One option is to price some services, such as a video consultation to look at a derm issue, at a discounted rate compared to your in-clinic exam fee
• If you determine during a telehealth consultation that an in-person exam is required, you may want to consider applying or crediting the cost of the initial telehealth exam to the price of the in-person exam
• If you choose to use a vendor’s platform, consider raising the cost of your annual exams slightly to cover the cost
• If you choose to add these services to an existing wellness program, you may want to bump up the price of the program to cover the additional services
• Be competitive in your pricing. Your clients are likely comparison shopping, so check to see what other practices are charging for their telehealth services
• Take into consideration other factors, such as the average income of a family living in your town, city or county
• Finally, during a crisis such as COVID-19, you may want to keep some things free — such as calling to report fecal exam results — until the crisis has passed and the economy recovers
Tips for Launching Telehealth Services
• Write a script for your team to use when communicating the services to clients
• Create marketing materials to promote your telehealth services — use texts, email and social media
• If you’ve never offered telehealth services, start small — for example, implement a text service to inform clients of negative lab results.
• Use veterinary nurses for some free telehealth services to increase the value of what you’re offering — these services could include follow-up calls to check on a patient after a routine exam
• Explain that the expanded services you are offering for their convenience means you now need to be compensated for services that you once did free of charge, such as phone consults or after-hours emails
1. The Real-Life Rewards of Virtual Care: How to Turn Your Hospital into a Digitally Connected Practice with Telehealth. aaha.org/globalassets/05-pet-health-resources/virtual_care.pdf. Accessed April 13, 2020.