by Sophie Bile, Student Veterinarian at the Ontario Veterinary College
In the days of smartphones and virtual technology, the major factors affecting a client’s willingness to step through the doorway of their veterinary clinic are accessibility and cost. Pet owners are reluctant to take on the stressful task of loading their animal into the car, driving to the clinic and spending money for a veterinary consultation that they feel may be unnecessary. However, they are often left with no choice due to the lack of technological efficiencies in animal healthcare which can result in avoidable, expensive, and often traumatic visits to the emergency clinic.
The idea of a 24-hour veterinary clinic is very appealing to pet owners, giving them the peace of mind that they can access high-quality local healthcare for their animal, regardless of the day of the week, or hour of the night. However, most veterinarians find the concept of turning their clinic into a 24-7 operation very daunting. They lack the infrastructure to support a business that operates 365 days a year, both in terms of financial cost and support staff to run it. Despite this major obstacle, it is clear that there is public demand for accessible and inexpensive veterinary medical care. The good news is that with emerging telehealth companies, this kind of access is now becoming a feasible option for many clinics.
"Often times, owners are simply looking for advice about whether their pet is in need of medical care and confirmation that they are making the best decision for the well-being of their animal."
Many telemedicine businesses are looking to provide an option for pet owners somewhere between following Internet advice from Dr. Google and making an expensive, possibly unwarranted trip to the vet. Often times, owners are simply looking for advice about whether their pet is in need of medical care and confirmation that they are making the best decision for the well-being of their animal.
Companies such as VetsPlusMore operate an open-looped operating system where veterinary clinics can purchase credits through an annual subscription and then offer those credits to their clients at their discretion. If a client chooses to contact a licensed veterinarian employed by the company outside of their regular clinic’s hours, their local veterinarian is notified and a credit is removed from their yearly total. In this model, a standard clinic is able to continue operating within set hours of the day, in addition to offering their clients inexpensive and reliable medical advice when the clinic is closed. In return, the client is reminded of the value of veterinary support and reinforces their trust in the veterinary profession, and in particular, of their own vet. This accessible alternative removes the financial burden of operating a 24h clinic for the practice as a vet can charge their clients accordingly (as low as $12 per credit/call) which reduces the cost barrier for pet owners (sometimes hundreds of dollars) and saves a trip to the emergency clinic. If in turn the client is recommended to go to an emergency clinic, the $12 fee charged to them for the call will likely not be a significant financial impact as they will already be paying for their pet’s emergency consultation and diagnostic testing.
"Becoming a 24h clinic does not have to mean completely reinventing a vet clinic’s business model and doubling the practice budget."
Becoming a 24h clinic does not have to mean completely reinventing a vet clinic’s business model and doubling the practice budget. It simply requires the proper understanding of the growing role of telemedicine in the veterinary health sector and the willingness to invest time into researching the telehealth companies available to best suit a clinic’s needs. In addition to becoming an additional revenue source for a clinic, this services provides added value to clients by offering as-needed medical service without increasing the demand on the staff. Vet clinics can utilize veterinarians for basic triage so that staff does not have to be on the phone 24h a day, while not compromising animal care and client access to vital information regarding their pet’s health. This will foster a more positive environment for quality animal healthcare, giving participating vets an edge over competitors and peace of mind to their clients.