Right now, our country—and the rest of the world—is facing some scary times. As veterinarians, we are expected to serve our community and their pets with continued medical care and advice. The hottest subject in our field is Telemedicine. “What is it?” “How can I start using it?” “How do I let my clients know it’s available?” These are some questions you might be asking right now.
I believe that we need to backtrack and ask ourselves more fundamental questions and conduct our due diligence before implementing telemedicine. For those of you that have been providing virtual care, you are the Rock Stars! For those that haven’t, you need to do your homework first so you too can be successful in the arena of connected care. Below is the process I recommend you follow before plunging into the deep end.
First, read your Practice Act laws
The first plan of action is to read your Practice Act Laws. Yes, it is a boring read at best, but we have time now with half the country quarantined. You need to remember that our governing body, the one that can take our license, is our State Board. Call your state board to find out if they have ruled on telemedicine and what their recommendations are.
Also be aware that the AVMA recommendations are only a guideline for practitioners and it is the state that governs you, so please follow your state regulations.
The AAVSB has an up-to date list of state telehealth guidelines that have ruled publicly on their website. Most states will and do require a VCPR, full documentation, and availability to clients for follow-up care for the use of any form of communication. I think the area of VCPR gets blurred depending on which state you practice medicine in.
Does your liability insurance cover telemedicine?
The second plan of action is to research whether your liability insurance covers you for telemedicine. Most will have general coverage for any form of communication with clients, as long as it is documented. However, a quick phone call to your provider will give you one less thing to worry about. If you choose to work with an online provider or through an app, you should ensure that they have liability insurance. Some platforms work in the human healthcare arena and are HIPPA compliant with malpractice insurance. If the answer is no, then you may want to choose another platform. This is a very important step to protect yourself and your business.
What kind of telemedicine do you want to offer?
The third plan of action is to decide what kind of telemedicine you want to implement in your practice and the criteria for the platform you are going to use. There are a number of questions to be answered in order to make this decision, for example:
- Do you want to offer asynchronous texting? Video chat? Both?
- Do you want everything to be on the schedule or do you want the conversations set up in real time as they come in?
- Who is involved and receiving the messages/videos, doctors only or a combination of both staff and doctors?
There are many more questions to ask and answer in this step of the process. Once you have decided on the type of telemedicine you would like to offer to your clients, your next step is to research what technology best meets your needs.
How to choose the right telemedicine platform
Understanding the various platforms and technology options that are out there and deciding which will be the best fit for your business is the final step in the discovery process. Ask yourself “Do I want to save money and do the “tech” stuff myself, understanding that it may not be as secure and will be time-consuming?” OR “Do I want it all done for me by an app company, so that all I have to do is sign up and learn how to use it and market it?” It may be worth the money to pay for a company that has a secure exchange of medical information, liability built in, and consent covered. Dr. Stacee Santi has a great video on the “three big buckets” of telemedicine platforms that are available.
Most importantly, do your research
To sum it all up, DO YOUR HOMEWORK FIRST! You shouldn’t be jumping into the game with both feet. Make sure the law permits you to use this modality, make a plan for how you want to offer it to your clients and in what form, and then choose the technology to start your journey. Once you have set yourself up for a smooth, successful, telemedicine experience, you’ll be ready to run with it!