Teletriage: the future of medicine for your pet?
A vet may use his laptop to see a pet remotely. Is teletriage the future of veterinary medicine?
A vet may use his laptop to see a pet remotely. Is teletriage the future of veterinary medicine?

The global pandemic has jumpstarted an increased veterinary teletriage, telemedicine, and telehealth for pets. Treating our pets remotely has given animal patients and pet parents the chance to contact a professional at any time. This could be over the phone or the internet to assess their animal and give veterinary advice where needed.

Almost every pet parent knows the feeling of being up late at night with a vomiting kitten or a dog But what do you do when the veterinary clinic is closed? How do you assess if you have an emergency on your hands or if it's nothing serious?

Added to that, most pet parents might be anxious over how emergency visit will cost? Or if their pet medical aid will cover it? What if you rush to the vet at midnight and there's nothing wrong, but now you're stuck with an $800 bill?

Teletriage is the next step in proactive healthcare and wellness for our furry loved ones. And while it is not suitable for every situation, it has opened up a new world of possibilities for reducing anxiety over our pet's health.

How has the pandemic affected veterinary medicine?

Perhaps in an increasingly digitized world, telehealth was always on the horizon. However, the pandemic certainly sped things along.

There have certainly been some key changes in our relationships with vets. Some of these include:

  1. More people have become concerned about exposure and have put off vet visits. This includes routine care visits, such as vaccinations, deworming, routine tick, and flea treatments. The good news is that Pet Assistant offers deworming, and tick and flea treatments online at wholesale prices.
  2. Veterinarians have also stepped in when it comes to human health. They are helping test humans for covid-19 and also to give vaccinations. This highlights the importance of veterinary practitioners when it comes to global health for all.
  3. Finally, we have seen a shift toward telehealth. Currently, more than 20% of veterinarians offering online services to help pet owners remotely.

The emergence of telehealth is a new frontier in pet care and can potentially make our lives a lot easier. But first, we need to look at what teletriage is.

What is teletriage (as opposed to telehealth, teleadvice, and telemedicine)?

Telehealth is a catch-all term for any veterinary healthcare that is done remotely. This includes a telephone call or a video conference with a veterinarian. All the other terms fall under the general term of "telehealth."

Teleadvice is simply general advice. It does not require that the practitioner has a veterinary-patient-client relationship (VPCR) and it shouldn’t be specific to your pet. It may apply to something general, such as the importance of vaccinating a puppy.

telemedicine means greater cost efficiency and quality of care
Telemedicine relies on being able to speak to your vet remotely

Telemedicine relies on VPCR, usually within a specific time frame. This means your vet needs to have seen your dog recently for a check-up or procedure. Now they may look remotely via a video conference call to advise you further. For instance, your vet might use a video conference call to see how your dog is recovering from an operation.

Teleconsulting is useful for actual veterinary practitioners who may want to consult with other professionals about one of their patients.

Teletriage is a far more specific service. It does not require that you and your pet have an existing relationship with the consultant. Teletriage is there to help you at those inconvenient times where it's out of office hours when there is a medical situation, and you're not sure what to do.

A teletriage vet can help ease your worries by telling you whether it's okay to wait for the morning or whether if it’s a true emergency.

What issues can teletriage help?

Teletriage is not only handy; it can be life-saving. Very few of us have any proper veterinary knowledge. Plus, since our pets don't speak, it can be tough to distinguish an emergency from something that will sort itself out by the morning.

For example, a teletriage vet can tell you whether the chocolate your dog scavenged out of your handbag is enough to be deadly or just likely to cause a tiny tummy upset. They can tell the difference between a dog that seems simply restless or showing deadly signs of bloat.

A long-haired white cat in a veterinary cone
Teletriage is helpful to cat owners who may avoid going to the vet due to the drama

Another crucial benefit of teletriage is that it helps with cats. Plenty of cat owners avoid going to the vet simply because of the drama an upset cat can instigate when it comes to being forced into a carrier. This means cats often go for far fewer vet visits than they should.

By using teletriage, you can show a practitioner what is going on with your cat without the fuss of traveling, and they can help you determine if it is an emergency or something you can handle at home.

A bonus is that teletriage gives pet caregivers the chance to ask questions they may feel is too "dumb" or don't come up in regular consultation. Some people feel more comfortable asking about whether their pet's collar fits well or if harnesses are a better option to keep pressure off their neck?

Teletriage is an excellent option for non-emergency medical questions. It's also helpful for:

  • Maintenance care
  • Skin problems
  • Odd behavior
  • Caring for pets near the end of their lives
  • Deciding when to go to the vet

Primary benefits of teletriage for your pet:

Peace of mind

When you use teletriage, you can avoid the feeling of being lost or hopeless in the middle of the night when you can't get hold of a vet, or you don't know how serious the situation is.

Too often, a late-night crisis forces an owner to jump on websites such as Quora or Facebook, looking for advice, only to get a ton of misinformation and shame for not rushing their pet to the vet immediately. By using a good teletriage service, you know you are getting the advice you can rely on.

24/7 service

One of the best advantages of teletriage services is that you can get quality advice at any hour of the day, from the comfort of your own home. Many companies can also help find you an emergency services center if your pet does need hands-on care.

Cost

Even with pet insurance, vet visits can be expensive. A single routine vet check-up, not counting any vaccination, medicine, or other procedures, can cost about $45- $55 on average. And, the price goes up exponentially after hours.

Meanwhile, Chewy Autoship customers can get triage services for free during certain hours, while other web services and apps can offer services for as little as $19 a month. Fees can vary depending on the service, with many offering monthly subscriptions, pay-as-you-earn options, or a small charge per consultation.

Improving the health of my pet

Perhaps the most crucial benefit of teletriage services is that they can become a vital tool in preventative care for our pets. By using this service, we can avoid unnecessary trips to the vet and the costs involved and still be proactive about our pet's health.

Any time, night or day, that we have a concern over something our dog or cat is doing or some symptom that has shown up, we can have immediate access to a professional who can advise us about what to do next. This can help avoid the annoyance of seeing a vet for no good reason, or worse, visiting a vet when it's already too late.



How do I know if I am speaking to a certified veterinarian using telehealth services?

When deciding on a teletriage service, several factors might affect your choice, including the cost and the quality of the service available. One of the first items to check, though, is that the service is that person that you speak to is a licensed veterinary practitioner.

To help you check this, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has compiled a list of veterinary connected care companies for you to choose from.

Which services are there, and what's the difference?

Veterinary triage companies offer a range of services, and it's important to know what they are and what to look out for. One of the first ones is to make sure that you are speaking to a certified veterinarian. Make sure the app or website is listed above on the AVMA list.

Secondly, one of the essential services is video conference calls. Many companies offer the following for consultations:

  • Video conference consultations
  • Emails
  • Phone calls
  • Texts

While these can all be helpful, in most cases, it's far more critical the vet can see your dog and cat. Even if they can't do a physical examination, they need to be able to look for symptoms such as a change in gait, lethargy, excessive panting, the color of the gums, or anything else an owner might miss.

Secondly, choosing a service that is compatible with your devices and operating systems is crucial. Make sure your teletriage company is compatible with your PMS, IOS, or Android as needed. Many of these companies have apps that you can download onto your phone. More on that later.

Finally, it's good to establish the exact kind of service the company gives and best suit your needs.

Types of teletriage services

In general, telehealth companies offer three core services, which we explained above. These services are:

  1. Teleadvice/teletriage
  2. Teleconsulting
  3. Telemedicine

For most pet owners, teletriage works well along with a good relationship with your vet. Teletriage means your vet doesn't have to get out of bed at night for non-emergency, and you can sleep easy, having still gotten professional advice on your pet's health.

The future of telemedicine and teletriage

Perhaps the most exciting part of teletriage is that it is only the beginning. Merging tech with keeping our pets living longer and healthier is on the horizon.

Teletriage and telemedicine may soon be combined with all kinds of high-tech devices. Teletriage apps can be used for everything from scheduling vet visits to noting and keeping track of medical data a vet may need to know.

In time, they may even come to log medical information from DNA tests that can help practitioners know what sorts of issues to keep an eye out for.

At the time of writing, smart litter boxes are being developed that use AI to analyze a cat's poop. In the future, this information can be sent straight to a veterinarian as part of teletriage and telemedicine services.

Likewise, pet activity trackers can collect data on details such as how active your pet is or their heart and respiration rates. All of this can become valuable information for both a teletriage consultant or your usual veterinarian.

Whatever the case, the use of the digital world is bound to become a critical part of holistic pet wellness.

Final thoughts

Teletriage can help give us peace of mind and helpful advice when we need it. When it comes to our pet's health, prevention is always better than cure, but since very few of us spent a decade learning to be a veterinarian, it can be hard to assess situations when they arise correctly.

For instance, that limp because my dog stepped in a thorn, or is it a cruciate ligament injury? Is my dog drinking too much water because they have a problem with their pancreas? Is my cat throwing up because they ate something from the garbage or because of a serious disease?

Teletriage can help us answer these questions before we rush to the vet and run up unnecessary bills. It also aids pet parents everywhere to know that professional advice and opinions are on hand, any time of the night or day.

Pet healthTelehealthTeletriageVeterinary care