I think Bob Dylan said it best when he penned the famous lyric, “The times, they are a-changin’.”   In the wake of a global pandemic, the veterinary profession finds itself in a unique position as a primary healthcare provider for all animals.  Now more than ever, we are adapting our practices and developing creative ways to ensure that no pet is left behind when it comes to delivering life-saving veterinary care.  However, with that in mind, we also have to ensure the health and safety of our colleagues and our clients.  I have already described our pet-only appointment structures and our car-side medication pick-up (though we prefer to call it Parking Lot Concierge Service).  Our next big project has been to launch our telemedicine program with which we can host Virtual Health Appointments with our clients and patients via video-conferencing.

What is telemedicine?

Telemedicine uses telecommunications, such as video-conferencing, email, photos, and video, to provide remote medical care for patients. In the simplest terms possible: it is a video chat medical appointment with your family veterinarian.

Why is telemedicine important?

Now, more than ever, our health and safety require social distancing measures that can make attending in-person appointments too risky for the humans involved.  Whether our clients are sick, caring for a sick family member, self-isolating or simply concerned for their well-being, we want to make sure that we can rise to the occasion by providing new ways to provide veterinary care.  This has made us think beyond the confines of a traditional veterinary appointment for your pet.  With our Central Veterinary Services Virtual Health Program, we can bring our veterinary expertise to you, while you remain safely at home.

How is our Virtual Health Program the same as an in-person appointment?



There are many ways in which the Virtual Health Appointment is the same as an in-person appointment.  You will be introduced to your veterinary team, including your vet, and registered veterinary health technologist or hospital assistant.  We will ask you about your concerns for your pet, and obtain a detailed medical history.  Once the exam has taken place (more on that later), we discuss the probable diagnosis, treatment plans and medications that you may require.  We then make a plan for any diagnostics tests, follow-up, and finish the appointment with a detailed medical record that reviews all of the information that was discussed during the exam.  Does this sound familiar?  It should, because that is exactly how all of our appointments flow at Central Vet.

How is it different?


The most obvious difference: we don’t get to physically examine your pet.  There are many sections of a physical exam that we can guide you through over a video call from which we can gather valuable information about your pet’s health.  However, there are a number of important things that we cannot do such as listening to the heart and lungs, performing an abdominal exam, assessing lymph node size and joint swelling.  One thing is for certain: Nothing replaces the information gathered from a thorough, hands-on physical exam.  However, as we move into the realm of telemedicine during uncertain times, another point becomes ever so certain: No pet shall be left behind due to unfortunate circumstance.  A telemedicine appointment may be used to triage a pet’s condition, and to develop a plan for diagnostics to occur at the clinic either right away or at a later date. In this sense, we are able to expedite the diagnostic and treatment plans, thus reducing the time your pet spends at the clinic, which also reduces the time you spend waiting in your car.  Our goal is always to provide exceptional medical care to your pets, and this is one way that we can do this while ensuring your safety, and our own.

What are some challenges?


There are a few obvious challenges.  Technical difficulties with internet connection is one that we luckily have yet to encounter.  Image resolution and the auto-focus feature on some smartphones can make examination of some parts of the body difficult.  I can credit my husband for helping me work through one of the biggest potential challenges, which was guiding a client through a complete physical exam.  At first thought, it seems easy.  I’ll just tell them what to do and what I need to see.  However, it’s not as intuitive as you think and like all skills, it takes practice.  So on the weekend prior to the launch of our Virtual Health Program, I sent my husband and my most obliging cat upstairs with his phone, to be my “client and patient” as I guided him through his first virtual health appointment in a video conference call.  I learned a lot about communication during that process and was able to develop some communication tools to make the process easy and enjoyable for my clients. Not to mention the entire exercise served as a very entertaining event during our otherwise isolated and socially distanced weekend.

How does it work?

We have invested a lot of time and consideration to make sure that the process is as seamless as possible for our clients.  It starts with contacting our clinic for an appointment by phone, email or PetDesk app.  Our knowledgeable client care team will determine the type of appointment you require, and as long as you are not calling with an emergency, they will offer a telemedicine appointment.  The appointment is booked just as any other appointment in a thirty minute timeslot.  You will then receive an email with helpful tips to ensure that you get the most out of your telemedicine appointment.  These include making sure that you are in a well lit room; Having all of your pet’s medications available to review; Asking a second person to be available to help facilitate the physical exam, etc.  You will also receive the link to join our virtual meeting room. This can be done on your smartphone, desktop or laptop.  You will be asked to join the meeting online five minutes prior to your appointment time, and then voila, we will appear on your screen ready to start your appointment. By the end of the appointment, you will have a discussion with the veterinarian on their findings, review any medications that will be dispensed, and if follow-up is required then the appointment for that specific diagnostic will be made prior to ending the call.

It is important to note that if the veterinarian determines that your pet needs an in-person exam following the virtual appointment, you will not be charged a second examination fee.  And in addition, if further diagnostics are required, you will be charged for these services alone, without an additional examination fee.

With that, I hope that our clients can feel more comfortable than ever in reaching out to us during times of need. We will always be here for you and your pets, whether it is in person or via video-conference.  I will refer to another quote from one of my favourite authors, Richard Bach, “There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands. You seek problems because you need their gifts.” Though I don’t think we have sought out this problem, I do think that we will benefit from the gifts we receive as a result of our ingenuity and forward-thinking approach to veterinary medicine during these times that are a-changin’.

Stay tuned, we will be holding two showings of our free webinar (one in the afternoon and one in the evening) accessible via our Facebook page called “Telemedicine: A guide for you and your pet”. Attend this webinar to prepare in case that you are needing to book a telemedicine appointment for your pet in the future.

Written by Dr. Samyra Stuart-Altman
Learn more about Dr. Samyra Stuart-Altman here.