Tech Focus: Veterinary Medicine Meets TeleMedicine

Pet ownership is on the rise, and so is telemedicine for humans. Is telemedicine also useful for diagnosis and treatment of animals? Aspiring vet med student, Erin Tan, did some research on the topic and shares what she thinks.

Consult a vet from home via the Internet. Photo by Velizar Ivanov on Unsplash.

Consult a vet from home via the Internet. Photo by Velizar Ivanov on Unsplash.

Pet ownership is on the rise.

With canine pets licensed in Singapore increasing by 32% in the past decade – according to the Agri-Veterinary Authority of Singapore – and the booming pet industry in places like China and India, it is evident that pet owners form a large, and valuable, market.

With teleconsultation, the vet can “see to” animals needing medical consultations even when he/she is not in the clinic.

With teleconsultation, the vet can “see to” animals needing medical consultations even when he/she is not in the clinic.

The pet-care market in Asia is valued at around US$1 billion a year, and is expected to grow to US$1.5 billion by 2020.

Another trend in recent years is the rise of telemedicine in the human health industry.

There has been a proliferation of apps like MaNaDr, Doctor Anywhere and MyDoc, which aim to connect patients with doctors over a digital platform and make the provision of healthcare much more convenient.

There is much potential in marrying the two thriving industries together, by making telemedicine available for veterinarians to deliver medical advice and consultations to pet-owners, through virtual means.

Manifestations of veterinary telemedicine would include platforms for pet-owners to ask vets for advice by sending photos and messages to vets on duty, or tele-consults via video calls.

Why Not?

Some would argue, however, that in contrast to human medicine, the patients cannot communicate with the doctor, making physical exams more important in veterinary medicine, making tele-consults less feasible for vets in comparison to doctors.

Can telemedicine apps for animals be as successful as telehealth apps for humans?

Can telemedicine apps for animals be as successful as telehealth apps for humans?

Information given by pet-owners about the abnormal signs shown by their pets may also be incorrect and based solely on observation, resulting in misinterpretation of the symptoms by the vet.

Furthermore, animals tend to be innately stoic and naturally mask many signs of illness.

It is due to these reasons that the physical exam and consultation is considered irreplaceable by vets who are in opposition to the use of veterinary telemedicine.

Why Yes?

However, telemedicine should not be taken as a replacement for all aspects of veterinary medicine. Rather, it should be harnessed as a valuable tool to augment the care provided, and it can offer many benefits when utilised to support traditional veterinary practice.

Firstly, for senior animals with movement difficulties, or for owners living in rural areas far away from vet clinics, tele-consults would offer a far more convenient way for owners to obtain medical advice for their pet, without having to travel long distances to consult a vet or having to subject an elderly companion to the rigours of travel.

Ask Dr Google.

Ask Dr Google?!

Secondly, many false alarms could be averted by allowing pet-owners to shoot off a simple question to vets regarding disturbing symptoms displayed by their pets, and determine quickly whether a physical visit to the vet is needed. This would save a lot of time for both the pet-owners and vets.

Another benefit could be the savings garnered from forgoing consultations when the pet-owner only has a few simple questions which could easily be answered without meeting the vet in person.

Due to the proliferation of the internet, the answer to a pet-owner’s question is often just a Google search away, which might result in misinformation and wrong treatment given to the pet by the owner.

Allowing owners to easily ask simple questions from vets, who can give them informed and qualified advice, would avert the problems presented by owners trying to ‘play the vet’.

Current State of Telemedicine for Vet Med

Currently, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) does recognise that telemedicine can complement traditional administration of veterinary medicine, but recommends that proper legislation be put in place to regulate veterinary telemedicine and its manifestations.

Follow up debriefing of lab test results and scans can be done via teleconsultation with animal owners without the need to bring the animal in to the vet clinic/hospital again.

Follow up debriefing of lab test results and scans can be done via teleconsultation with animal owners without the need to bring the animal in to the vet clinic/hospital again.

They oppose telemedicine being used for diagnosis and treatment of patients without a pre-existing relationship between the pet-owner and vet, except in an emergency.

Some telemedicine platforms for petcare which are currently available include LiveDVM and Fuzzy Pet Health Connect, which allow owners to ask vets questions and check if they actually need to bring their pets in for a consultation.

At present, due to limited legislation and the nascent nature of veterinary telemedicine, the services offered by such platforms are quite rudimentary and limited. However, there is still great potential for telemedicine to be applied in the veterinary industry.

Looking Forward

In fact, in some areas, telemedicine may even be more beneficial than traditional practice: for example, in dermatology, greater image resolution could possibly be obtained than through a physical examination, which would benefit the patient greatly.

Seeing the recent upsurge in telemedicine for human health, and the booming pet industry, veterinary telemedicine is sure to become a valuable asset to the profession.

At present in Singapore, there are no telemedicine apps for the pet-owner, in stark contrast to the wealth of apps available for human patients.

However, veterinary telemedicine holds much potential to improve the state of veterinary medicine, and is an industry that will surely see much development over the next decade.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply