A Nanaimo veterinary hospital will be home base for a virtual appointment pilot project for pet owners on Vancouver Island.
The telemedicine program will operate out of VCA Canada Island Animal Hospital and Dr. Daniel Joffe, VCA Canada vice-president of medical operations, said it offers clients an appointment via computer or mobile device. The program was being planned before COVID-19, but the pandemic sped up implementation, Joffe said.
Appointments can be done via video chat and cellphones, with information sent to clients via e-mail invitation. Clients can also have appointments over the phone or by text, Joffe said.
“The veterinarian’s preference is always if they can get a visual and that can be a phone, that can be a tablet, but some clients are leery of that for various reasons and so we’ll do whatever the client wants … if it’s not a video chat, then we will likely have the client take some video of their pet and send it in to us so that we can evaluate it,” he said.
Telemedicine can ease patient load at clinics, but Joffe doesn’t see it leading to the end bricks-and-mortar veterinary hospitals.
“This is not a panacea that’s going to make clinics that are fully set up … go away because everything’s going to be done virtually now, no,” he said. “One of the things that all of the provinces have is they mandate that veterinarians and a client have … a veterinary-client patient relationship. So you have to develop a relationship with the client before you can do virtual care.”
In addition, there limitations for virtual appointments, according to Joffe.
“If a dog is very ill, we need to get them into the clinic because we need to do a hands-on physical exam, possibly draw blood for analysis, maybe take X-rays, and we obviously can’t do that through telemedicine,” he said. “But if it’s a dog that’s had diarrhea for a couple of days, but is still eating and drinking and feeling fine; if it’s a dog that’s having urinary accidents … those scenarios are things that we could often do by telemedicine and often with a caveat that if your pet is not doing better after two or three days, we need to see them physically in the clinic.”
Seven VCA clinics on Vancouver Island have access to telemedicine, and appointments will be handled by Dr. Melissa Pham from Nanaimo.
“This is one of the cool things about being virtual, is that patient may be a client at Central Saanich Animal Hospital, which obviously isn’t in Nanaimo, but the medical records go into that patient’s file at their regular hospital, even though it’s a telemedicine veterinarian that’s doing the call … she is able to virtually access and virtually be in each of those clinics,” Joffe said.
For more information, go to www.vcacanada.com/island.