Standard checkups are a part of responsible pet parenting. And with new technologies some — though not all — of those visits could be done remotely over the Internet.
It’s all thanks to the telemedicine trend, which is catching on in human medicine. The idea is simple: Instead of physically visiting a doctor’s office, people bring the doctor to them using a video chat service like Skype or Helpouts, a variation of Google’s Hangout service that launched in 2013 to connect experts with people seeking advice. Experts can charge a fee for their time, often billed by the minute or hour.
“We believe telehealth, and Helpouts, can complement in-person office appointments and play an important part in the overall continuum of care,” Christina Wire, Google’s director of business operations, tells Fast Company.
Doctors are allowed to give human patients medical advice and even sign prescriptions. But people eager to try telemedicine with their pets need to understand important challenges with veterinary telemedicine, says Dr. Caleb Frankel, an emergency room veterinarian and founder of VMD Technology, a site that tracks the latest technological advances in veterinary medicine.
One challenge is the law. State veterinary practice laws require vets to perform a physical exam before they give medical advice. And there are good reasons for that, says Dr. Frankel. The physical examination is important in veterinary medicine because animals can’t talk, and humans aren’t always the most reliable interpreters.
“A good chunk of the time, what people interpret is wrong with their pet is completely off base,” Dr. Frankel says. “It’s not their fault. You can’t wrap your mind around your pet. That’s why the physical exam is so important.”
Dr. Frankel doesn’t expect those logistical or legal challenges to ease anytime soon. As a result, telemedicine between pet parents and vets will be limited to generalized information. Banfield Pet Hospital is one company that’s using Google Helpouts to give owners general wellness, nutrition and vaccination tips. The consultations are free, but Banfield makes clear that staff cannot diagnose a problem or prescribe treatment.
Vets, however, can use video chat services to collaborate with veterinary specialists in radiology, arthroscopy and even dentistry. This vet-to-vet collaboration is where Dr. Frankel sees the biggest potential for telemedicine. As the technology advances, telemedicine could help ensure that pets get specialized medical care, no matter where they rest their paws.