Veterinary Telemedicine Isn’t Quite Here Yet, But Remote Training Sure Is

Veterinary telemedicine isn't quite here yet.

Full disclosure: veterinary telemedicine isn’t really a thing yet. Yes, the technical wonders of video conferencing and smartphones have combined to bring us online digital dog training and the full potential of the technology will one day lead us to veterinary telemedicine. For now, though, a bunch of legal obstacles and unwilling state legislatures lie in the way of being able to have your pet diagnosed and maybe even treated via video call.

Instead, we’ll have to be content with virtual dog obedience courses. It’s not a bad compromise. From anywhere and anytime using the convenience of your smartphone, you can teach your puppy new tricks or cure your old dog of unwanted bad habits. You’ll have to master the art of sharing your video calls with your pet, but online dog training lets you and your pooch learn a little etiquette without having to leave your home territory.

First, though, let’s talk about the struggle to get Fido seen by the vet over video call.

Why Veterinary Telemedicine Isn’t Ready Yet

Veterinary telemedicine does already exist, it just needs a lot more help from the powers that be before it’s ready to replace your real-world vet clinic. There are several apps currently operating around the world that offer online pet diagnosis and treatments.

First, there’s Fuzzy, a subscription service that offers unlimited video conference connections with your vet, as well as home visits for when things need to get hands-on. Then there’s Petriage which, as the name suggests, offers an online triage service to potentially save you a trip to the vet clinic should your dog or cat suddenly start acting strangely. And there’s Live DVM, a service for vets and pet parents that offers text, chat, and video calls for those of us living lives too hectic to permit an unscheduled vet trip. As you can see in the video below, these services are intended to make pet ownership easier.

The problem is that most state laws prohibit vets from prescribing medications or administering treatments to animals over video conference unless the client and their pet are already in a doctor-patient relationship. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has stated that its own ethical standards won’t allow for pets to be treated outside of a veterinary-client-patient-relationship and the FDA has ruled that this relationship cannot be established solely through video conference. That means that you can’t simply pull up an app that connects you to whichever veterinarian is available and get little Petey the parrot diagnosed then and there. If you already have a relationship with a veterinarian that is licensed to practice in your state and if that veterinarian is set up to practice telemedicine, you might be able to have an appointment via video call. Those are pretty big ifs.

The AVMA, the FDA, and state legislatures would need to make some changes in order to truly realize the potential of veterinary telemedicine.

This is a stricter approach than is typically applied to human telemedicine, which has been generally favorably looked upon–even supported–by governments. And that makes the canine double standard a little strange. That said, the human equivalent is still bound by in-state-only regulations that nullify some of the benefits of video calling, such as the ability to transcend time and place. For instance, if you’re a returned veteran living in Florida who wants to access military teletherapy based in Michigan, you have to relocate north to receive it.  

At any rate, the AVMA, the FDA, and state legislatures would need to make some changes–primarily to the definition of a veterinary-client-patient-relationship–in order to truly realize the potential of veterinary telemedicine. That means that we don’t expect remote vet care to become the go-to for pet owners any time soon.

But that doesn’t prevent us from getting our dog obedience lessons online.

Sit, Stay, Make a Video Call

While veterinary telemedicine walks a fine legal line between dispensing advice and administering treatment, dog training video conferencing is free to flourish. We’ve found more than a dozen of those offerings online, including the app GoodPup, which is as promising as, well, a big box of puppies.

Downloading the app gets you access to video calls, chat, and messaging with a real live dog obedience trainer who’ll personally guide you and your furry best friend through all the stages–from chewing the couch to sitting quietly by your feet. You also get a customizable training regime and an obedience tracker that reassures you that progress is being made even if your new shoes are chewed.

What appeals to us the most about virtual pet training is the fact you can stay in your everyday environment to use it.

Pet Training Live from Your Own Home

If you take your dog to classes at, say, the local animal shelter, it’s not always easy to convince your dog obedience class trainer that the cuddly, tail-wagging ball of fluff before them is a leather-thirsty shoe killer once they’re in the comfort of their own home.

With a live, mobile video conferencing link you can take your trainer right to the scene of the crime. Just as doctors gain insight into their human patients by observing them where they are most comfortable (another benefit of human telemedicine), so too can a trainer or behaviorist benefit from a virtual vantage point.

Once the law catches up with the potential of veterinary telemedicine, maybe we’ll get a more complete online telehealth service.

In fact, time permitting, canine behavior specialist could accompany you and your dog through any daily routine that’s causing problems. You’d get instant feedback on how to neutralize the offending behavior and the session wouldn’t put your dog through any additional stress. In fact, this is why dog trainers often travel to give one-on-one dog training sessions in the pet owner’s own home. However, video calling makes a commute unnecessary for the trainer, potentially making the session cheaper and making it possible to hire a trainer or behavioral specialist located anywhere in the country. It also removes the distraction for your dog–whether due to excitement or fear–of having a new person in the house. All of these are real and significant benefits to remote dog training.

Once the law catches up with the potential of veterinary telemedicine, maybe we’ll get a more complete online telehealth service for our pets. In the meantime, there are plenty of puppy parents who could stand to take advantage of the great virtual advice out there on how to guide their dog’s behavior.

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