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Telehealth and other new ways vets help pets during a pandemic — Part 1

Veterinary Telehealth — What is a VCPR?

In this time of social distancing and staying home, you might not want to leave the house, even for a pet who seems sick or injured.

Most veterinarians encourage people to call to help you decide whether it’s something that needs to be seen right away. However, keep in mind that veterinarians have a very important criteria we must establish with you and our patients before we can diagnose or treat a problem. This is known as the VCPR or Veterinary-Client-Patient-Relationship. A new VCPR needs to be established before a vet can diagnose or treat any new problem.

In practice that means the if Spot was seen for a cough a month ago, but now has a limp, your vet will need to see Spot again in order to prescribe any treatment or medicine for Spot’s limp. Unfortunately, your vet can’t “just prescribe something” for the limp since Spot was just seen for a cough.

There was some thought that a VCPR might be established via Telemedicine during this COVID-19 quarantine, as it is in some states for human doctors. But both California and Nevada Veterinary Medical boards still require a hands-on examination by a veterinarian to establish a VCPR, despite the pandemic. After a vet examines a pet, they can use telemedicine technology like Zoom or FaceTime, text messaging, video, pictures, and email. You probably do many of these things with your vet already after establishing a VCPR.

What that means during COVID-19 is if you suspect your pet has an injury or illness, like always, you should call your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will tell you whether your pet needs an examination and whether it sounds urgent or is something that can wait until later. Most vets are doing drop-off appointments now. During your appointment, your veterinarian will probably communicate with you via telemedicine before, during and after so that you can social distance while your pet is receiving care.

After the VCPR is established, for the foreseeable future, your vet will probably prefer to see Spot using a telemedicine visit for a recheck on that limp. What we learn in this pandemic may change the way vets work in the future. I think many vets and owners may find they like the convenience of using telemedicine for rechecks and triage long after the pandemic is history.

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