Shaping Client Relationships

With that call to arms for veterinarians to lead any changes, let's discuss how veterinarians can shape their client relationships and the related compensation models. Veterinarians have always provided consultation – albeit sometimes informal – outside of face-to-face appointments. Should these types of interactions require payment?

[Lori Teller] We run into clients at the grocery store or the kids' PTA meeting. We could even be at a party and a stranger will come up and say, "Hi, I hear you're a veterinarian. Let me ask you about my dog." Telemedicine offers a way for us to redraw the boundaries by providing an alternative to direct people to when we're not working. It also provides a way for us to be compensated based on time similarly to some other white-collar professionals.

We're seeing a further separation between where clients go to obtain product and where they can go to obtain knowledge. As veterinarians, knowledge is our greatest resource. We need to shift our thinking and train ourselves and our support staff to recognize how telemedicine can benefit both our clients and us. We should be compensated for our knowledge and time whether we are physically in our office or working virtually.

"We're seeing a further separation between where clients go to obtain product and where they can go to obtain knowledge. As veterinarians, knowledge is our greatest resource."
Lori Teller

[Jessica Trimble] Our clients can jump on Google and find an answer – likely not the right one – within 13 seconds. We have to find ways to make it easier for our clients to reach us, so they can get trusted advice in a simple and fast manner at a palatable cost. No one wants to pay the full price of an exam just to ask a teletriage question like, "Do I need to come in for this or that?"

[James Penrod] Figuring out how to monetize these new technologies can be difficult. Compassionate veterinarians can find it hard to take payment for simple advice like whether to come in for a visit, but it's important moving forward.

[LT] A lot of early adopters are trying to figure out how to dip their toe in telemedicine, and triage is a great place to start. Some studies and anecdotal evidence show that many clients' biggest concern is whether they need to seek emergency care or whether the issue can be addressed in the morning. A lot of pet owners are simply looking for some assurance and guidance. Veterinarians who are not making a diagnosis or prescribing specific treatment don't need a VCPR to give general advice. They can say to a pet owner, "These are the things you need to look out for and if you're not seeing them, you can wait until the morning to contact your regular veterinarian."

[JT] Many pet owners tell us they would've liked to ask their veterinarian a large list of questions but the appointment was only 15 minutes long. This is a huge issue for clients and veterinarians. In general, veterinarians want to educate and provide clients with advice, but when they're seeing 30 patients in an eight-hour period, there isn't time to provide more personalized support. Teleadvice systems can really benefit on both sides.

[JP] From a consumer perspective, when I ask my voice-command smart speaker for advice on my cat, I'm asking for specific advice about what to do. Yet we call that "general advice." The law does not adequately address the definition of nonmedical versus medical advice. As we move forward, we need to consider what advice a veterinarian can give outside a VCPR or whether they're actually creating a VCPR when giving teletriage advice. Working this out more explicitly will help us all transition more smoothly and understand how to stay out of trouble.

Converging Pathways of Telehealth

Bye bye, two-way street. Communication is a superhighway and telehealth services can help navigate the crossroads.

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