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Post-Surgical Rechecks Made Simple with Virtual Care

According to the AVMA, “It’s clear that virtual care is emerging as an inevitable part of the modern veterinary practice.”  Telehealth and virtual care are not designed to replace your practice or expertise.  It is meant to serve as a tool to enhance it!  But where do you get started?  There are five clinical scenarios that the AVMA mentions:  postsurgical care, hospice, general wellness advice, after-hours care, and expanding access to veterinary care. In each of these scenarios, the presumed current protocol most practices are utilizing will be compared to an enhanced protocol based on how virtual care and technology can help. Let’s get started with post-surgical rechecks.

The typical current protocol for routine surgeries looks like this: The pre-surgery requires reminder phone calls and client education critical for patient safety and outcomes.  On surgery day, the procedure is performed, medication dispensed, and a recheck (aka Progress Exam) appointment is made for about 7-14 days from the surgery date. The pet parent must bring the pet into the clinic for the medical progress check.  A technician usually is responsible for examining the suture line and interviewing the pet parent about medication adherence and the pet’s activity.  The pet is discharged without the need for additional follow-ups.

It is important to note, after a routine spay/neuter, this is where the relationship can end for a veterinary practice, especially if the pet is a healthy, young animal.  The veterinary practice may not see this pet again for at least a year or, according to Banfield, about 16.9 months.  According to the AVMA Pet Demographic study, 30% of pet owners did not visit a veterinarian within the last 12 months and reported that the reason was that the pet was not sick or injured.  Veterinary visits are down significantly, so this pet may never return, especially if they are getting core vaccines at another location like a low-cost community-based medicine event or non-traditional mobile vaccine clinic.  In fact, according to the 2017-2018 AVMA Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook, “21% of dog owners obtained routine care from a pet health provider other than a veterinarian.”  This client is probably fairly typical of the trend we are seeing in veterinary medicine and getting routine preventatives like heartworm or flea/tick from outlets such as Amazon and Chewy further affects the frequency of visits to the veterinary hospital.

How can a veterinary hospital keep its finger on the pulse of today’s pet parents and use technology to build a stronger relationship? Virtual care can help. Routine surgeries like spay/neuters, dental extractions, skin wounds, and lumpectomies can be managed in a whole new way with virtual care.  Pre-surgical instructions and reminders, as well as post-surgery follow-ups, can now be managed remotely!  This can drastically improve your practice’s workflow and client communications – not to mention, increase revenue from services and building a medical profit center!  

Consider an enhanced protocol using virtual care. During one of the pet’s earlier visits (such as the puppy vaccine series or a pre-surgery physical exam), the veterinary team walks the pet parent through the steps to download an app from BabelBark and make the connection to the practice as the pet’s preferred provider. Now, pre-surgery instructions and reminders are all sent via a push-alert or an electronic medical journal entry to pet parents, right on their mobile phones.  Surgery is performed, medication dispensed, and a recheck appointment is scheduled. During discharge, the veterinary team instructs the pet parent that, on the day of the recheck appointment, the pet parent is to take a photo or short video of the incision site and write an update on how the pet has been doing in the Medical Journal section of the BabelBark app. The pet parent does not have to bring the pet to the veterinary hospital – they will upload the photo or video and make an entry in the pet’s Medical Journal. The practice assigns a veterinary technician who is responsible for doing exam room suture checks to evaluate these cases and report back a summary to the veterinarian.

Additionally, with the help of a remote patient monitoring service like BabelBark, a post-surgical patient’s activity level can be monitored. Some practices make this service available for an additional fee to the pet parent. BabelBark’s Health Monitor syncs with the app and provides a dashboard of the pet’s activity level in real-time. The pet parent and the veterinary team can review the chart and dig a bit deeper if they notice unusual activity.  Remote patient monitoring allows post-surgical rechecks to be done either in person or virtually/remotely.  

Look through that enhanced virtual protocol again. 

  • Reminders and other updates are sent via the app (no phone call to make). 
  • Use of an app on mobile phones is attractive to many millennial pet parents.
  • Medication instructions can be entered into the app and alerts will remind the pet parent when to give the meds (and when they check that they gave the meds it provides a record that can be reviewed by the veterinary team).
  • Journal notes from pet parents are reviewed by the designated veterinary team member (no interruptions during the busy office hours). 
  • Recheck/Progress checks are done in virtual time (thus opening up exam rooms for critical or ill cases). 
  • Journal notes and video are uploaded to the pet’s medical record (improved documentation). 
  • Remote patient monitoring provides insight into a pet’s post-surgical activity levels (allowing for awareness of too much or too little activity, as well as revenue to the business).

For most, the post-surgery suture recheck is a free exam done in the hospital. The enhanced virtual protocol moves it out of the exam room and into a virtual care setting, thereby helping the veterinarian’s caseload, optimizing practice workflow, and allowing the scheduling of paid, revenue-generating procedures and exams.