The way our pets receive veterinary care changed dramatically two months ago.
One day we were in the exam room with them. The next, we were driving to the clinic when we had an appointment, calling from our cars to announce our arrival, and staying in our cars while masked vet techs came and took pets inside for exams.
Telehealth is likely to be with us for a while.
High-tech accommodations that veterinarians and pet owners have made to deal with COVID-19 will likely remain in the future. Phone calls, video and social media may all play a role in the way pets receive care — and the way we witness it.
For instance, if you can’t go in with your pet, can you still see the exam and communicate with the veterinarian?
“Absolutely,” says Dr. Peter Weinstein, executive director of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association. Once the pet is in the exam room, he says, it’s easy to initiate a Zoom, Skype or FaceTime call with the client so they can see what’s going on.
Dr. Julie Reck foresees utilizing video and social media more frequently to let owners see what’s going on if a pet has to “go to the back” for a procedure or is recovering from surgery.
“We do a lot on our social media for our veterinary page,” she says. “We get video content of our patients all the time, whether that’s while we’re in the exam room or if they’re in the back treatment area. If we’re going to change that dynamic and separate the pet parent and the pet, we need to up the ante with that a little bit.”
Anxious about letting your pet go into the veterinary clinic without you? It’s not surprising that your pet might be weirded out by the masked, gloved and gowned technician and veterinarian.
And separating pets and their people isn’t ideal, but veterinary staff members are easing pet anxiety by using low-stress handling techniques, food rewards, stress relievers such as pheromone diffusers or soft music, and nonskid surfaces on exam tables to help them remain calm and comfortable.
In the not so distant future, remote health care may become more common for what were once routine in-clinic visits. Beyond a pandemic situation, it can benefit people who are sick or who don’t have access to transportation. It’s useful in remote areas where specialist care isn’t available and in cases where pets simply can’t tolerate a visit to the vet.
Maybe your dog has a lump on his chin. You could take a photo of the lump and e-mail or text it to your veterinarian for advice on whether it can wait or if your pet needs to be treated immediately.
Whenever the pandemic is over, lingering fear will likely affect the way veterinary medicine is delivered. We may see hybrid models combining traditional delivery of veterinary medicine with new drive-up, drop-off or telehealth services.
Weinstein counsels patience to pet owners and veterinarians who are navigating new territory and are concerned about their health as well as that of their families and pets.
“If we can all respect one another’s needs, we’ll all come out of this just fine,” he says.