By Dr. Jess Trimble, Head of Health at Fuzzy Pet Health
Telemedicine, Telehealth, Digital Health, and Virtual Care are terms that are used to excess in the health space recently. It’s obvious that providing a digital route for patients to contact their healthcare professionals is a necessary, and expected, means of communication. In the human medical world, it’s rapidly become a primary point of non-emergency access to healthcare. This type of care is now commonplace in the human medicine realm, but in the veterinary world, it’s a relatively new field of exploration and experimentation. Many veterinarians are hesitant to institute the use of virtual care services within their own practices without knowing how to properly institute it, how it will affect patient outcomes, and how it will affect practice resources like staffing and revenue.
At Fuzzy, we’ve provided a digital health service to our members since we saw our first in-home checkup approximately two and a half years ago. We started with a simple chat box on our website with no real idea of how it would be received; after several iterations of chat functions and apps, we now offer the Fuzzy app with Connect nationwide that supports picture and video integration as part of a live chat. Since January 1, 2018, our incredible team of DVMs, veterinary nurses, and assistants provided more than 13,000 high-touch, personalized interactions with our members alongside in-home healthcare services.
The primary mission at Fuzzy is to increase access to basic care; our nationwide virtual care service allows us to serve that mission well. We receive an incredible variety of questions- from basics like diet, training, and puppy care, to mild to moderate health conditions, to second opinions, severe injuries, and emergencies. Our members are not only sending us photos and video clips, but also data obtained from activity tracking collars and links to their in-home camera feeds so we can observe the pet in real time. We frequently help people with significant financial and geographical limitations that prevent the ability to go to a veterinary hospital who have nowhere else to turn.
Obtaining data around these interactions has revealed valuable insights. About 30% of all questions are regarding dermatologic issues- allergies, ears, hot spots, itching, external parasites, mild superficial injuries, and other non-emergency dermatologic questions. The next 20% was about vomiting, 10% on diarrhea, and 10% on training or behavioral needs. The remaining 30% is divided fairly evenly among shaking or trembling, eye symptoms, sneezing, nutrition, limping, toxin ingestion, and reproductive questions. While we do experience some emergency requests, the vast majority of interactions are for non-urgent, uncomplicated medical issues. Emergencies are most commonly associated with ingestion of a variety of substances.
One of my favorite stories illustrating the value of this service is all about a dog called Dot. Dot quickly became known as a troublemaker; adopted from Taiwan in the unruly teenager stage, her mom had already become a pro at using Connect. She showed us photos of paw pads that were irritated from running too hard at the park, eye irritation from sand at the beach, diarrhea that resulted from eating trash off the sidewalk, and we monitored for a blockage after she came home to the aftermath of Dot ripping her brand-new memory foam mattress to shreds. We were able to help her through all of this with simple at-home care and guidance, without needing a trip to the vet.
The most eventful experience came with a link in the chat to Dot’s Nest Cam. Since Dot was a known troublemaker, her mom had a camera trained on Dot during the day while she was at work. This particular day, Dot had managed to knock a half-full bottle of ibuprofen off a shelf and chew it apart. By the time her mom noticed, ibuprofen was scattered all over the floor. She came through Connect immediately, wondering if this was a problem. In less than a minute, we could see Dot actively sniffing around the pills and taste-testing. We recommended she leave work immediately and take Dot to the closest emergency facility; ibuprofen is toxic to dogs and can cause kidney failure, so time was of the essence. While she was driving home, we found the closest emergency center to Dot’s house and called ahead make sure the ER was prepped. Dot’s kidneys were just a few ibuprofen away from renal failure. Thankfully, a few days of IV fluids got her through the worst of it. Dot’s kidneys needed a little time to heal, but some Fuzzy in-home visits for recheck labs show she’s back to her normal trouble-making self again. Without the use of the camera and fast access to veterinary advice, Dot probably wouldn’t be with us today.
Fuzzy’s Connect service will continue to provide amazing virtual care to our members, and that care will continue to improve as new technologies develop and laws around veterinary-client patient relationships adapt to catch up with the regulations in the human medical field. We’re so excited to expand access to veterinary care and keep our fuzzies happy and healthy through the use of digital health!