“We don’t have an anyone in this county, so I called a veterinarian I knew outside the area,” she said.
At the veterinarian’s request, Denney sent a text detailing the horse’s clinical signs along with photos of the animal and how much manure he produced throughout the day.
“He gave me a short-term diagnosis, and told me how I could help the horse right away,” she recalled. “Then he referred me to an experienced veterinarian closer to home.”
Experiences like Denney’s are becoming increasingly common as telemedicine—medical professionals using text and photo messaging and internet technologies to help patients—is allowing veterinarians to provide their clients access to a variety of veterinary services from the routine to specialized, all from afar.
For example, said Dave Foley, executive director of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, horse owners can text a question to a (telemedicine) service and be immediately put in touch with an established equine veterinary practice for advice.
Telemedicine can also help veterinarians keep accurate records that include client texts and e-mails as well as their care instructions and a list of prescriptions.
“These records can result in better patient care and better client communications and assist in preventing and defending against malpractice claims,” said Rachel Kosmal McCart, the founder and principal attorney of Equine Legal Solutions, PC, an equine law firm based near Portland, Oregon.
But while telemedicine technology is promising and convenient, it also carries risk.
Suppose an owner sends photos of a horse’s wound to a veterinarian and asks whether the practitioner believes the wound merits an emergency farm call or if it can wait until normal business hours the next day, said McCart.
“(If) the veterinarian makes a decision based only on those photos from the client, there is a significant risk that the photos may not provide the veterinarian with all of the information she needs to make an accurate assessment,” she said.
At the same time, technology itself is not foolproof, she said.
“Technology can fail, and humans can make mistakes using it,” McCart said. “Robust and redundant data backup and thorough training of all employees using the data, including the veterinarians, is essential to make the most of what the technology has to offer and reduce the risks of using it.”
As a result, veterinary organizations are formulating policies to help their members effectively use telemedicine in their own practices.
“The American Veterinary Medical Association is developing an extensive toolkit and guidelines for members who are interested in using telemedicine in practice,”said Sharon Granskog, the association’s associate director of media relations. “The toolkit and guidelines will include information on policies, laws, and regulations; potential applications; descriptions of various service models; and guidance on monetization (of the technology).”
In the meantime, telemedicine is already part of the routine between some equine practitioners and their clients, Foley said.
“This kind of consultation is mostly happening when clients have established relationships with their veterinarians,”he said.”So, in my opinion. the technology will become routine because the client will desire it.”
“It’s already been a big help to me,”she said.