How do video vet appointments work?

As the Lockdown 2 grinds onwards, we’re very fortunate that most vets practices have taken the time to fine-tune their procedures and protocols to deal with Covid. This means that most have not gone back to an “Emergencies only” stance.

However, there are many situations where a physical face-to-face consultation might not be the best approach. As a result, there are now a wide range of video systems being used by vets to allow “remote” consultation appointments over video. In this blog, we’re going to take a look at how these systems work, their strengths and weaknesses, and what sorts of things vets are using them for.

Why are video appointments taking off right now?

Well, just in case you’ve been in a cave for the last nine months… with the risk of transmitting the Coronavirus between people, governments around the world including ours in the UK have instituted a comprehensive series of restrictions. Now, vets practices have, fortunately, been less affected by these than other industries (vets are permitted to stay open and treat animals, for example). However, any human-human contact can spread the virus; and so, like so many other industries, vets have been looking at options that will allow us to see and assess your pet without us risking each others’ health!

However, that’s just the “accelerating” factor – this is a change that has been coming for a while. The issues of convenience, transport difficulties, and animals that are stressed on visits to the practice have meant that even before the pandemic there were a number of services starting to be used by vets. 

When are video appointments useful?

While not every situation is suitable, there are some situations where video appointments are really valuable. Good examples include…

  • Follow up checks – if there aren’t any major concerns, but it’s just a check-up to make sure all’s going well, then a video call can be really useful. The vet or nurse can see the pet (much better than a phone call!) and talk to you as the owner, just checking in to make sure that all is going OK. 
  • Behavioural issues – if your pets are anything like mine, they don’t behave the same way in the vets’ consult room as they do at home! As a result, your vet or your behaviourist can’t see what they’re really like at home… and of course that’s something we need to be able to see. That’s why a lot of behaviourists prefer to do “at home” consultations – but of course, adding a new person to the environment isn’t a perfect answer either. However, using your phone, tablet or computer will allow your vet or your behaviourist to assess them behaving naturally.
  • Triage – the “is it an emergency or not?” question – it’s really common when your pet isn’t behaving normally, but they aren’t obviously really ill. Is this an emergency that needs someone to get them to a vet, maybe out of hours, or maybe taking time off work? Of course, if it is serious, you’d be willing to do that, but what if you’re not sure it’s really necessary? In these situations, your vet will often be able to make that determination after a few questions and a quick look at them! So a 10 minute video consultation can save a lot of time down the line… or even save a life.

When are video appointments not suitable?

There are of course situations where the problem can’t be dealt with over a video link. Critical illnesses licked a cat with a blocked bladder, a road traffic accident, or a dog with a GDV (bloat) need seeing by a vet as soon as possible. 

What’s the law?

There are two components to a video consultation, legally speaking.

The first is assessing the patient. What is required to assess the patient sufficiently to make a diagnosis is really variable – in some cases, we just need a couple of sentences from the owner to have a pretty good idea of what’s going on; in others a physical examination is absolutely necessary; and in others examination, tests and scans and a complex workup is needed. So whether or not a video is sufficient for the vet will depend on the exact situation, and that is up to the professional judgement of your vet.

The second component, of course, is prescribing treatment – like medication. Normally, vets are not permitted to prescribe medications without having physically examined the patient pretty recently. However, due to the pandemic, the RCVS is permitting vets to do remote prescribing if necessary.

There is a third regulatory issue that needs to be considered – the issue of supersession. There are all sorts of regulatory requirements on vets before we are permitted to give advice about a patient who isn’t registered with us. So, right now, we can’t advise booking a video consult with anyone other than your own vet!

What’s the future for video consults?

While people may be longing to go back to “normal”, sadly I think that ship has sailed. Video appointments are here to stay – we all need to get used to using them for those situations that they’re most appropriate for. This isn’t going to mean you don’t see your vet face to face – unlike our medical colleagues, our patient’s can’t talk, so a physical examination is going to be needed in many cases anyway. But the benefits of having this additional option are huge – in terms of infection control, but also time, convenience, and probably money as well. So watch this space!

Have you used a video appointment with your vet? If so, let us know how it went in the comments!


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