What is Telemedicine?The definition of telemedicine is: “The remote diagnosis and treatment of patients using telecommunications.” Telemedicine is a rising trend in human medicine, especially for those living in remote areas or time-poor people who can’t take time off to visit a physician. And it’s on the rise for pets.
Pets Aren’t PeopleBut pets aren’t people and therein lays a big problem: Pets can’t talk. Obvious as it sounds, this is a crucial point. Whereas a person can describe whether a pain is sharp or dull, constant or intermittent, your pet can’t. A person tells the physician where it hurts, whereas a vet determines this with a hands-on physical exam. So let’s get the disadvantages out of the way so we can concentrate on the positives.
The Downside of Telemedicine for PetsFirst, let’s be clear that your vet and you both want the same thing, which is to make an accurate diagnosis and give the pet the most appropriate treatment. However, in some cases, telemedicine may not give the vet all the information necessary to do this. Here’s why:
Touch, Sight, Sound, and SmellDuring a physical exam in the consulting room, the vet uses all her senses. Vets palpate the pet’s tummy, feeling for localized pain or gas build up. They smell the dog’s ears, mouth, or coat, to gain clues as to what the problem is. They assess how the cat reacts when the hip is extended in a certain direction. They listen to the heart sounds, alert for a murmur or a strange rhythm. In short, there’s much more to a physical exam than taking a patient history from the owner.
Unreliable NarratorHave you ever seen a movie with a twist in the story because of an ‘unreliable narrator’? The latter is a person who gives biased or incorrect information, based on their interpretation of events. With the best will in the world, many extremely caring owners are the pet equivalent of an ‘unreliable narrator.’ Take a straining cat for example. An owner sees their cat straining in the litter tray and concludes the cat is constipated because of a lack of poop. Cue a telemedicine consult where the owner says, “My cat is constipated.” The owner is convinced (wrongly) the problem is constipation and gives the vet this information as gospel. But this is misleading because the cat is actually straining because they have a blocked bladder… or they may even have diarrhea and the empty gut is so inflamed the cat thinks there’s something to pass and strains. The point being, that owners may jump to conclusions which color the way they describe the symptoms, which has the potential to send the vet thinking off in the wrong direction.
The Legal AspectLaws governing the treatment of animals state: “A veterinarian-client-patient relationship cannot be established solely by telephonic or other electronic means.” In other words, it is a legal requirement that a vet physically examines the pet, at least in the first instance. This helps to safeguard the pet from misdiagnosis, based on lack of information. But once that diagnosis is made, telemedicine may have a place, especially for anxious animals assisted by the wonders of wearable technology.
The Benefits of TelemedicineLet’s say your dog is diagnosed with early-stage heart failure. The vet wants to follow up and see how the meds are helping. However, your dog hates the vet clinic. He shakes, pants, and generally gets into a state of high anxiety as soon as you enter the waiting room. This pushes his heart rate through the roof, making it difficult for the vet to accurately assess the heart rate and rhythm. Enter telemedicine! When that same dog is using wearable technology, such as a PetPace collar, all his vital signs are monitored whilst he’s relaxed at home. This gives a far more accurate reflection of the state of his circulation than is obtained during a high-stress vet visit. The ideal partner for telemedicine is a PetPace collar. So comfortable to wear the dog is unaware of it, the collar tracks all the dog’s vital signs including:
- Heart rate and rhythm
- Respiratory rate
- Activity levels
- HRV (Heart Rate Variability)
The Best Use of TelemedicineThere are a right and a wrong way to use telemedicine. The law is quite clear that telemedicine should only be used as part of an existing patient-vet relationship. In most cases telemedicine only becomes an option once a firm diagnosis is made, to assess a response to treatment. In other words, it’s best to think of telemedicine as a tool, rather than a standalone option. However, and this is the really exciting part, for some pets the use of wearable technology married with telemedicine can save them significant stress AND improve treatment. With the aid of a PetPace collar, there’s a strong argument in favor of telemedicine for:
- Monitoring of stable patients on long-term meds
- Heart patients
- Patients recovering from surgery
- Elderly pets
- Pets with long-term conditions
- Anxious pets