In an era of social distancing, telemedicine and technology keeps us connected to our patients, clients, and community.
Veterinarians, especially those with families, lead busy and demanding lives. On top of that, the global pandemic is continuously challenging veterinary professionals in all aspects of work. Providing quality medical care while juggling childcare or eldercare is hard enough. Piling on continuing education courses, maintaining professional contacts, and contributing to the advancement of our profession through mentorship and research -- “It’s a lot” is an understatement.
Could going digital alleviate some of these challenges?
What is VETgirl and why was it started?
VETgirl was created to solve a problem: efficient time use. In the veterinary world, it’s often very hard to find time for self-care; being able to listen to continuing education (CE) podcasts on portable devices to create more personal space was the company’s original goal. VETgirl has rapidly expanded. Doing CE at any time (cooking, cleaning, traveling) is now a possibility.
How did you arrive at VETgirl and VetNow?
The expansion of my family changed everything. The cost of childcare while I’d be working ER shifts and my husband was working for the military was prohibitive. I ended up actively seeking out ways to shift my career to fit my situation. I ended up on social media exploring jobs in the digital space, and ended up at VetNow as well as VETgirl. Digital jobs can be taken anywhere, which has created such an excellent space for working flexibly.
What does digital technology bring to our world?
It creates access.
Clients can now get to their veterinarian and their information much more easily, and vice versa. Veterinarians can reach out to specialists and colleagues for advice and information much more quickly. Digital technology supports the “pain points” we find in our communications and in our workflows - it’s an augmentation of what we have already.
Also, it doesn’t have to be scary - we’re all new to it, and we’re all working it out together!
What’s the future of veterinary CE and telehealth in the digital space?
CE requirements often include “onsite” training. That’s been difficult recently.
We’re likely to see changes in how much “onsite” CE is required in the near future. Since COVID, telemedicine has moved from being a curiosity to being a fixture, and that’s likely not to change now.
The veterinary community is also starting to look at digitally monitoring pets with “Fitbit”-style wearable technology. Wearables have a substantial role in production animals (e.g. cows) - realtime information on production animals, allowing immediate intervention, would change the entire industry.
Is there a new vision for the future starting to take precedence in the field?
Everyone is certainly beginning to trend towards a “One Health” approach.
Veterinarians are often able to help more with public health concerns now as telemedicine comes to the fore (e.g. American veterinarians communicating with African game wardens).
Who should be involved in the digital space, and why?
The possibilities, from digital conferencing to telemedicine to accounting to media, are endless. Veterinarians can look at the digital space from two perspectives: how can the digital space improve their practice, and how it can improve their own lives.
What holds back progress?
It can be difficult to move away from entrenched habits and decide to do something new in one’s own practice.
You have to find that “champion” in the practice (it doesn’t have to be you!) who is enthusiastic about the digital space. Starting is always the hardest step, but there’s a lot of ways to reach out and find out more about integrating telemedicine.
Does digital veterinary care put in-person care at risk? Might we be replaced by cheaper, impersonal veterinary visits?
Not everything is replaceable, like emergency hospitals.
The digital space isn’t here to replace the veterinary community, but to augment it. Especially with VCPR laws, we still have to be very careful about what we do digitally.
If a veterinarian wants to go digital, how might you recommend going about it? Where do you start, and when do you quit your day job?
Definitely start slow.
You might transition into a tele-triage role (giving advice, but not diagnoses or medical recommendations). If you want to be able to do more of what you did previously, like making diagnoses and recommendations, that requires a VCPR in most states, and so taking a “telemedicine day” or working part-time in another way might be the right move.
It’s always best to give the digital space a try first before jumping into the deep end.
If you had to pick between the teaching/VETgirl and the practicing through digital, which would you choose? Which is giving you the most satisfaction?
Teaching is something I’m very passionate about. I never want to give it up. But I never want to give up practicing, either! I cannot pick one or the other.
Should vets going digital be trying to build a brand for themselves? like a following online? Is that important? (Asking as an introvert who wants to go digital)
I think because of the way the industry is changing, this is the route we need to take eventually. In previous experience, some vets did not want to have a website for their practice. As people are using their phones more, I would take a stand on this and recommend people try to build their brands in the webspace.
How do you keep up your skills, especially as a specialist, when you’re not actually in a clinic?
I still do some relief work and teach wet labs here and there.
With VETgirl, I provide content for all our webinars, so that keeps me up to date on the literature. From a hands-on perspective, it’s important to keep up part-time hospital work.
Is being a specialist an advantage for going digital?
Specialists give consultations to veterinarians. We talk vet-to-vet, so that’s a bit of an advantage. But no. Veterinarians who see clients digitally see lots of benefits. There isn’t necessarily an advantage.
If this person is giving advice to a non-specialist, is it worth it for the person to complete residency, etc if they want to go into that lifestyle?
If they already know they want to enter the digital space, I do think you should have a hands-on approach with digital medicine.
If it’s worth it to pursue a speciality, it’s up to you as a person and what you want to learn.
It’s a personal question on what keeps you excited day-to-day.
VETgirl is a fast growing online community of veterinary professionals, offering a resource of RACE-approved CE courses.
FidoCure® has a free RACE-approved CE course on Personalized Medicine available. You can find it here.
The COVID-19 pandemic is evolving quickly and you need to find information at the appropriate depth and credibility level. To that end we have started a webinar series to address the academic and practical aspects of the COVID-19 crisis as they pertain to the veterinary world.
The webinar format includes a segment with an expert on a specific aspect and a segment with 1-3 practicing veterinarians reporting from the field.
If you would like to get our webinar invites, please send us a note using our veterinarian contact us form.