Veterinary Telehealth — What is a VCPR? — Part 1
Most veterinarians encourage people to call so they can help you decide whether your pet need to be seen sooner rather than later. 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 medical 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 your dog Finn was seen for a cough a month ago, but now he has a limp, your vet will need to see him again in order to prescribe any treatment or medicine for his limp. Unfortunately, your vet can’t just “prescribe something” for the limp since Finn was just seen for a cough. Each problem needs its own VCPR.
There was some thought that a veterinary VCPR might be established via Telemedicine during this COVID-19 quarantine as it is in some states for M.D.s. But both California and Nevada Veterinary Medical boards still require a hands-on examination by a veterinarian to establish a VCPR. 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 that not much has changed — if you suspect your pet has an injury or illness, you should call your veterinarian. Your veterinarian’s triage nurse will tell you whether your pet needs an examination and whether it should be soon or can wait until later. Your veterinarian will probably communicate with you via telemedicine before, during and after the appointment so that you can socially distance while your pet is receiving care.
After the VCPR is established, for the foreseeable future, your vet will probably prefer to see Finn using 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 using telemedicine for rechecks and triage long after the pandemic is history.
Part 2 of this series can be read here.