Telemedicine and teletherapy were around long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020 and started to change the way veterinary practices did business. But this mode of client care wasn’t exactly popular or widely used — it didn’t have to be when clients could easily come into the clinic and speak with their veterinarian face-to-face. Telemedicine has historically been more widely used in the world of human healthcare, only seeing occasional use in the world of veterinary medicine.
As lockdown measures went into place and people stopped visiting their local veterinary practices — often because of government restrictions, if not simply out of a sense of self-preservation or public health duty — the industry started to see a shift. Now, real-time telemedicine for veterinary practices has started to become a necessity. As 2020 rolls on, using technology to provide client and patient care in a remote fashion is something that many veterinary practices find themselves doing. It’s either that or shut the clinic doors until the pandemic passes — and it’s hard to predict exactly when that might be.
Of course, providing healthcare advice via a video, phone call, or other remote vehicle is far different than providing it in person. And one concern that this brings up is HIPAA compliance, or compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. Owners need HIPAA compliant teletherapy for veterinary practices so that they don’t have to worry about running afoul of the Act’s provisions.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the ins and outs of veterinary telemedicine, how HIPAA software for veterinary practices can impact your business in the time of COVID-19 and beyond, and discover the best solution when looking for a HIPAA secure teletherapy for veterinary practices.
What Exactly is Telemedicine?
Veterinary telemedicine is simply the delivery of veterinary services remotely (outside of an in-person setting) by using any combination of different communication technologies to facilitate doctor-client connections. Basically, it involves using technology like video and phone calls to diagnose and treat patients, rather than seeing them physically in the office.
Telemedicine can be asynchronous or synchronous. Asynchronous telemedicine means that information is sent at one time but received at another. This includes things like sending a client a text message to let them know their order is ready, leaving them a voicemail message, or emailing about an update on a procedure. Essentially, the practice sends out this information, and the client views it on their own time. Your veterinary practice is very likely already doing this, of course. So, in a way, you’ve already been practicing telemedicine in one form or another.
Synchronous telemedicine, on the other hand, involves a real-time interaction between clients and veterinarians. This is the relative newcomer to the field, and the one that’s been thrust into the spotlight and given a heightened position of importance thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Real-time telemedicine for veterinary practices could include a simple phone call, something that we’re all used to, but the term more often refers to a face-to-face video conference between a veterinarian (or a Technician in some cases) and the pet owner. The owner can describe symptoms that their pet is displaying, or show physical signs or symptoms that are visible on the pet’s body via the webcam. This can allow the veterinarian to start forming an initial diagnosis.
Obviously, telemedicine in this form doesn’t come without its problems. Diagnosing health issues over a webcam will simply never be the same as seeing the patient in-person and being able to physically exam them, run tests, etc. And it of course brings up questions of compliance and liability, i.e. how does one implement HIPAA compliant teletherapy for veterinary practices? Is there existing HIPAA software for veterinary practices?
At the moment, however — thanks to COVID-19 and the social distancing measures that are required to halt it — the telemedicine approach is the best we can do.