Clients want 24/7 access to services – their veterinarian is no exception. While this demand creates opportunities for emergency care facilities, urgent care office hours, and on-call services; it also creates stress for veterinarians and managers to provide 24/7 service while at the same time taking into consideration the logistics of team schedules in a tight labor market and having a culture with a healthy balance for team members.
The current offerings for 24/7 access varies widely – including speaking to an answering service, being referred to an emergency facility, speaking to an on-call veterinarian (possibly the pet’s doctor or another doctor in the on-call group), or seeking information from “Dr. Google” (who is always available – just ask Siri or Alexa). The concern is that pet parents can feel ‘disconnected’ from their pet’s regular doctor during times when they have an after-hours issue. Any option that makes the pet parent feel that the pet’s veterinarian is inaccessible or unavailable risks damaging the relationship. It also increases the likelihood that the pet parent may under assess the pet’s medical need (and thus fail to seek medical care), or wrongly evaluate the need and end up with an expensive fee for a non-emergent issue. Aside from developing super-human abilities to be available 24/7, veterinarians do have another option – virtual care.
According to the AVMA, five clinical scenarios can benefit from telehealth and virtual care – after-hours care is one of them. Practices can use telehealth or virtual care to help triage and prioritize care and also augment their current after-hours care plan. Morris Panner, CEO of Ambra Health, makers of the leading cloud-based, medical image management suite, notes that clients want 24/7 access to services. “In a Salesforce survey, 6 out of 10 of millennials support telemedicine, such as video chats, instead of in-person visits. Even more want their doctor to give them a mobile app for booking appointments, reviewing health records and managing their preventive care. Most would consider wearable devices that share health data with their doctor.” If millennials want this for themselves, they certainly want it for their beloved pets.
A helpful tool for implementing virtual care at a veterinary practice is BabelBark for pet parents and the corresponding BabelVet for veterinary practices. Here is how some of the features can work for the veterinary team:
• Veterinary practices offer their clients a free “app” that allows the pet owner to keep health information about their pet at their fingertips, as well as provide contact information for emergency care. Think how nice this is for the traveling pet that needs to seek medical attention while away from home, or when a kennel or groomer needs to see proof of vaccines. Not only does the pet parent have quick access, but the need for making extra phone calls is also reduced.
• BabelBark’s app has a two-way pet journal feature which allows for the asynchronous sharing of information between the pet parent and the veterinary practice. Instead of asking Dr. Google, the pet parent enters information and questions into the journal which is then reviewed by their pet’s veterinary team (practices will schedule a tech/nurse to review journal entries and follow up on questions). The pet parent has the ease of submitting information and questions, and the veterinary team has the luxury of scheduled time to review and reply – no more phone calls, being placed on hold, or playing phone tag.
• Quick links to locate emergency providers are available, and options such as BabelBark’s Alpha Pack featuring a 24/7 Pet Medical Helpline can be yet another way for a veterinary practice to put a pet parent’s mind at ease. For a $34.95/year fee, BabelBark app users can utilize WhiskerDocs 24/7 veterinary helpline. This service acts as a tele-triage for pet owners needing round the clock access to a veterinary professional. Not only will pet parents talk to a “live” person, but they will also be advised about how to handle the pet’s situation – even when to seek immediate care at an emergency facility. This can remove Dr. Google searches and the risks associated with waiting until the veterinary practice opens the next day. For the veterinary practice – the cost of this service is paid by the pet parent and not an outsourcing expense incurred by the practice.
Even though veterinary teams give 110% to pets, no one is a superhero. At BabelBark, we get it. The veterinary team wants to be available, and the team wants to help any pet parent who needs to ask a question or get pet care advice. There just isn’t enough time and energy to cover 24/7/365 so technology can come to the rescue. Virtual care does not replace the veterinary practice, nor does it minimize the team’s expertise. It does allow the team to keep in touch with pet parents in a more controlled manner without suffering from the stress of always being available.
Get started with virtual care in offering a realistic, relevant, convenient 24/7 care model.