Telemedicine for vets including video call apps aren’t just convenient for pet owners, they give veterinarians flexibility as well as a way to monetise phone advice. By Clea Sherman
One of the most frustrating things about being a vet is giving free advice over the phone but it is also a struggle to figure out how to charge for this type of service.
Sheep veterinarian Dr Tristan Jubb found himself spending hours speaking with farmers each week, usually after hours. “The advice I gave over the phone was often limited because I didn’t have the full picture,” he says. “And although farmers were happy to pay for my time, it wasn’t really worth the hassle of raising an invoice then following up on payment.”
Dr Jubb’s other concern was tips being shared by sales reps, rural merchandisers and on online forums. “Always free but not always good!” he remarks. The problem was the gap between the need for an appointment and just having a few quick questions answered.
After connecting with a friend who had experience in IT, Dr Jubb added ‘tech entrepreneur’ to his job title. “We created the Phone A Vet app, a convenient, affordable way for animal owners to get advice from Australian registered veterinarians.”
The rise of telemedicine for vets
One of the latest remote vet support services to be introduced in Australia, Phone A Vet is a smartphone app which can be used anywhere, by any animal owner.
“Pet owners, farmers or wildlife rescuers can access the app, so long as they have an internet connection,” says Dr Jubb. “They can connect to someone local or to a specialist who works with the type of animal in question.”
The caller can upload videos and photos to share in a 15-minute video call. The vet on the other end gets a clear picture of the situation and surrounding environment, and can give their advice based on what they see.
After their call, the animal owner is automatically invoiced for a $24.95 payment, which is instantly transferred to the veterinarian’s or practice’s bank account. There is no hassle of preparing bills or chasing payment as this is taken care of within the app.
Any vet can become a Phone A Vet veterinarian, so long as they are registered in Australia. Offering this type of service gives vets the opportunity to drastically expand their patient footprint, to make extra money out of hours and also to save time. For example, a vet can review the progress of an animal which has recently had surgery, without needing to actually travel any distance to see it.
While some raise questions about the margin for error or potential legal issues of consulting over the phone, Dr Jubb mentions that telemedicine is good enough for humans. “There are apps around the world which allow people to consult with a medical doctor online. The vet industry is just catching up.”
Flexibility beyond the clinic
The rise of telemedicine for animals allows vets who are semi-retired or do not wish to work full-time the chance to move out of a clinic-only scenario but stay involved in the industry.
Guy Sharabi is one of the founders of Pawssum, which offers a combined mobile vet and televet service through a smartphone and tablet app.
“We have 170 vets registered on our platform in Australia,” says Sharabi. “Some had left the industry but are able to come back to treating animals without the stress of marketing, invoicing and billing.” Vets who don’t work from clinics can partner with local providers to take care of more extensive appointments.
The platform’s video call-based service is called Telepet. “Often customers just want to ask a question but it could be late at night or they may not be able to get to the vet that day,” explains Sharabi. “They can organise a call with a vet then decide whether their situation needs urgent attention.”
This service can be a game changer in a triage situation, allowing qualified vets to quickly assess a situation via video call and advise if emergency treatment is required.
“If it is an emergency, the details of the call with the vet’s complete notes are then forwarded to the emergency care provider,” says Sharabi. Having the medical notes of a qualified vet via Telepet means the emergency vet has a better insight into the matter in hand.
Telepet clients pay $79 for an extended video consultation, however they are refunded $40 for their subsequent follow-up visit from the vet. Pawssum, in partnership with Pet Circle, is also set to offer an At Home Pet Wellness Plan, which will include annual flea and tick control treatments, vaccination appointments and two Telepet calls per year. The subscription price will be less than $9 a week.
Telemedicine and mobile vet services can make a significant difference to the common issue of small problems with animals becoming big ones.
“People often postpone vet appointments because of inconvenience or an unwillingness to spend money,” explains Sharabi. “If the issue gets worse, the owner takes a large financial hit and the pet suffers more than necessary. A quick call or visit from a qualified vet who is able to give their undivided attention can save everyone a lot of headaches without a lot of expense.”
A new way of working
Dr Kirsten Aberle has over 20 years of experience as a vet and now works with mobile and telemedicine service Pawssum as a way to balance family life. She has taken calls from dog owners, including one who had a dog about to deliver puppies and one with a cut to its leg.
“Telepet can be better than a traditional phone call because it lets you see what’s going on, rather than trying to guess from the client’s description of what’s happening” she says. “In both instances, I was able to quickly reaffirm the clients’ suspicions that they needed proper medical intervention.”