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Vetchat – an important new solution for vets, pets and pet parents

Australian telehealth services company Vetchat is expanding its support role for bricks and mortar vet practices across the country, providing instant online video and text chat connectivity between pet parents and Australian licenced vets.

Vetchat was created by Australian vet Dr Claire Jenkins in 2015 to deliver professional veterinary advice to pet parents when they can’t access a physical veterinary consultation, while also giving vets the opportunity to conduct advice and follow-up consultations remotely.

The service can operate in two ways. Firstly, pet parents can access the service in the public domain by clicking on vetchat.com.au and linking to an experienced Australian vet online within seconds. Secondly, treating vets at the pet parent’s usual vet practice can initiate outbound online consultations with clients to provide advice, post-operative check-ups, follow-up consultations, and the like.

Pet Parents can speak with an experienced vet in seconds

When a consumer uses the service via vetchat.com.au, it’s usually because they have a concern about their pet’s health and wellbeing and they cannot get to their usual treating vet. This can occur for many reasons. Some situations unfold outside of the usual vet’s opening hours and the pet parent can either not find an alternative open practice, or is reticent to escalate to an emergency clinic. This can be a common situation for shift workers, workers who commute and don’t arrive home until after 7pm, and those in remote communities.

Vetchat is also an important alternative at any time of day for parents managing small children, those with disabilities and the transport disadvantaged.

In around 60% of cases, the Vetchat vet’s discussion with the pet parent results in a referral to the usual treating vet, which means that most of the time Vetchat is operating as a tele-triage service.

A non-prescribing, non-diagnosing Tele-Triage service

As a tele-triage service, Vetchat provides families with peace of mind by immediately connecting their pets with trusted Australian licensed veterinarians via video and text chat consultations. The consultations are in real time and accessible through a platform that supports desktop computers and mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets.

Pet parents  can describe and show their pet’s issue and, when possible, the vet will provide information, guidance and/or advice so the carer​ learns what needs to be done. In some instances, the vet may consider the pet’s issue can be addressed at home while – more commonly – the vet will recommend a hands-on examination at the pet parents  regular or emergency vet for diagnosis, tests and medication – and will advise as to the urgency.

Vetchat vets do not make a diagnosis or prescribe medications – except in the case of locum work in remote communities where no other options are available – and the majority of consultations result in a referral back to the regular veterinary clinic.

To further improve this experience – and enhance Vetchat’s complementary role for the customer’s usual treating vet, plans are well-advanced for Vetchat notes to be sent to the customer’s regular veterinary clinic.

As a support service to bricks and mortar vet practices, Vetchat does not seek to establish client relationships. Online consultations take place in a tele-triage capacity for which a bona-fide veterinarian–client–patient relationship (“VCPR”) doesnot exist and – in keeping with the American Veterinary Medical Association – a VCPR is not established by electronic consultations.

Where Vetchat comes into its own for the consumer is improving access to the most trusted advisor for pets – a veterinarian – as opposed to ‘Dr. Google’, or a social group member. Online consultations are great for:

  • Non-urgent questions about pets
  • General advice to keep pets healthy
  • When carers don’t know when or if they need to see a vet
  • Support when their vet isn’t available.

Dr Jenkins said many Vetchat contacts are pet parents seeking knowledge when they don’t want to leave the house, and they don’t think it’s serious enough to escalate to an emergency service, with single episode of vomiting being the biggest reason for them to get in touch.

She relates a recent instance where a dog was being cared for while awaiting adoption and the carer called Vetchat after becoming concerned about the dog’s wellbeing but was not sure what to do next. She said the Vetchat vet was quickly able to establish that the dog had not eaten for 36 hours and its vital signs were not great, resulting in a recommendation to go straight to the local veterinary clinic. In this instance, the carer also decided to adopt the dog and is now a new client for the treating clinic.

Vet practice outbound tele-consults to enhance service delivery

Vetchat also can provide vet practices with a new outreach capability, empowering them to reach out to clients when those clients can’t physically attend the clinic, or as a more efficient means of providing advice or services such as post-operative check-ups and follow-up consultations.

Vetchat makes it easy for vet practices, supplying a technology solution for practice veterinarians to use as an additional channel to connect with clients – with benefits including:

  • Improving support options for pet carers with video consultations – especially relevant now during the COVID-19 lock-down, reducing potentially unnecessary face-to-face contact.
  • Inclusive service delivery to those who cannot easily get to the clinic during regular hours, such as shift workers, those with small children, people with disabilities, or with limited transport options – with potential to expand the catchment area of the clinic at the same time.
  • Delivery of in-home follow-up and communication, such as postoperative checks, management of behavioural issues, and chronic condition management. 

Where vets in a practice deploy Vetchat technology to conduct outbound tele-consults they can also perform diagnosis and prescribe, because they hold the veterinarian-client-patient relationship.

A further extension of the outbound service is in development, where Vetchat will also be able to supply experienced Australian veterinarians to undertake the outbound tele-consults on behalf of a veterinary practice.

In delivering tele-triage for consumers and outbound tele-health solutions for vet practices, Vetchat’s goal is to benefit the health and welfare of animals and provide vets with a valuable service that complements and supports the face-to-face contact veterinary care system to positively support existing veterinarian–client–patient relationships. 

Complimentary Online Vet Consultations Delivered for PetSure Customers in April

Together with Woolworths, PetSure supported free online vet consultations during April for customers of every brand of pet insurance administered by PetSure, through the innovative Vetchat tele-triage service. The public interest initiative enabled almost 500 customers to access up to two free online consultations in the month, allowing them to speak with an experienced Australian vet in a real-time consultation using chat or video call from their own homes.

With the stay-at-home and self-isolation directives that are now in place across the nation Vetchat is a critical service for pet owners, yet it can only play a support role to physical veterinary practices, as Vetchat vets do not make a diagnosis or prescribe medications, and the majority of consultations result in a referral back to the regular veterinary clinic.

Where Vetchat comes into its own for consumers is improving access over extended hours to a veterinarian as a most trusted advisor.

Importantly, PetSure’s arrangement with Vetchat was confined to PetSure subsidising the cost of the online consultations for its brand partner customers, and there was no exchange of customer, claims or veterinary treatment data between the two organisations.

Pet parents contacting Vetchat will receive general advice regarding their pet’s condition and benefit directly from the peace-of-mind and triage value of an online consultation, where they can speak with Australian licensed Veterinarians via video and text chat consultations, supported by an Australian-owned company. Please stay tuned for a forthcoming webinar from PetSure and Vetchat about the role of online consultations in supporting the Australian veterinary ecosystem.

Any advice is general only and may not be right for you. Cover is subject to the policy terms and conditions. You should consider the relevant Product Disclosure Statement or policy wording available from the relevant provider to decide if a product is right for you. Insurance products are issued by The Hollard Insurance Company (ABN 78 090 584 473; AFSL 241436) and administered by PetSure (Australia) Pty Ltd (ABN 95 075 949 923; AFSL 420183) through our Authorised Representatives and our distribution partners.