History shows that challenging times bring out the best in both people and business. It is also true that in time of war, innovation increases a hundred-fold. Our war is with a deadly virus, but I believe some good will come from this period in our lives and in particular for the veterinary profession that is so important to me.
Long before Covid-19, veterinary practices were being challenged with an unhealthy level of attrition in the profession, with a third of vets throwing in the towel just five years from qualifying due to the challenge of an unhealthy work/life balance.
Covid-19 has only amplified this challenge. Vets had to close clinics to all but emergencies and still conduct telephone consultations around family and other commitments at home. This forced vet practices who were traditionally bricks and mortar only, to fast-track the implementation of online consultations and digital diagnosis.
Nobody could have predicted the increase in demand for telemedicine in veterinary care we have seen this year, but one positive outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic is that vet practices across the country have had to adapt quickly to remote consultations when this may not have been in development for many years to come, and pet owners have become accustomed to accessing vet advice in other ways. Telemedicine has been able to play an important role in reassuring worried pet owners, helping them access professional vet care remotely and direct them to clinics when they were concerned about leaving their homes.
As a profession, we now have more evidence than ever before that remote video consultations and prescriptions can be safely conducted without being face to face. Since the 2nd April 2020, we (at remote veterinary app, Joii) have performed more than 1500 veterinary consultations that have resulted in issuing prescription medication on a remote basis. Over 2000 POM-V medications have been prescribed, the vast majority for skin-related issues, lameness, parasites and other low risk conditions..
I fear that if the profession learns nothing from the change in how we have worked over the past three months, and the decision is made to reinstate the restrictions on remote prescriptions, it will significantly impact animal welfare in a post-Covid world, where people will remain nervous to leave their homes and affordable pet care will be increasingly important for pet owners. As a business who has provided remote veterinary consultations for the past 12 months, we have written to the RCVS and provided detailed evidence demonstrating the efficacy and safety of remote prescribing as a key support tool in improving animal welfare.•
I have over 30 years’ experience in practice, and I am extremely passionate about the impact telemedicine will have on the wellbeing of veterinary professionals. We’ve already seen how our clinical team of 50 benefit from being able to work from home and choose their working hours around other commitments. I sincerely believe reducing stress through flexible working could be commonplace across the board, it will help address the high rate of suicide amongst our profession that needs to change, and quickly.
As lockdown eases and life gets moving again, many veterinary practices will continue to offer video consultations as they have now see the benefit it brings to pet parents, the time and costs it saves for both sides, plus how it addresses the issues of work/life balance.
Telemedicine will never replace a physical practice, there will always be a requirement for a physical examination, just the same as human healthcare. You certainly cannot repair a broken leg or give a vaccination remotely. However, it is important to note that pet owners see a vet for everyday and non-emergency issues that can all be diagnosed online, both affordably and conveniently.
This new way of working will not only free up vets to carry out important physical work in practice, but it will forever change their work/life balance. Imagine vets not being under pressure to choose between long shifts in practice and raising a family. The possibility for the most experienced veterinarians to remain in a career they love, will be supported with new technology and an attitude shift off the back of lockdown.
Out of the Covid-19 crisis, comes an opportunity to make life better for pets, their owners and the vets that want to continue to be able to make a difference. The evidence on every level is clear and the future is exciting. Bringing veterinary care into a digital world means being able to share and analyse data easier and faster. Artificial Intelligence will further support diagnosis, through video and images, helping not hindering the ambitions of veterinary professionals, who all chose their career because they wanted to improve animal welfare. Embracing technology developments and welcoming change is hard, but entirely necessary for the future of our industry.