A new regional mobile app is providing a virtual veterinary service allows pet owners to consult with a veterinarian at any time about Fido’s health or temperament.
But the convenience of bypassing an office visit through Vet24seven or similar apps now available might not allow for adequate animal care, some Sacramento-area veterinarians said. Participating veterinarians could violate state regulations if they offer virtual treatment for an animal they’ve never physically seen.
Vet24seven launched in July, offering Sacramento and Bay Area residents live video and text chats with local veterinarians about general questions and medical or behavioral issues. Users can upload photos and videos of their animals for use during virtual consultations. The app launched about two weeks ago in the Los Angeles and San Bernardino areas.
We think (Vet24seven) increases the frequency of contact and makes the more remote areas more accessible
CEO and co-founder
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Consultations are available for all domestic pets, exotic pets and larger animals such as horses, and cost $40 to $60, with the cost determined by the veterinarian. Emergency services – which guarantee a return call within 15 minutes – may cost a premium fee, also chosen by the veterinarian, of 25 to 50 percent higher than the consultation fee.
To date, the app has received sign-ups from dozens of veterinarians and hundreds of new customers. More than half of the veterinarians are in California, and the rest are in states including New York, Texas, Ohio and Florida.
“This way you can engage your veterinarian in causal regular everyday conversation related to your animal,” said Cal Lai, CEO and co-founder of Vet24seven.
The app competes with traditional veterinarian offerings. According to local veterinarians, office visits that include an initial exam for cats or dogs cost an average of $50. Some have emergency answering services pet owners can use after hours.
Vet24seven also allows pet owners without a current veterinarian to be referred to one through the app, which is where veterinarians can run afoul of the state regulations set by the California Veterinary Medical Board.
There is really no substitute for placing your hands on an animal and smelling an ear infection. You can’t do that over a computer.
Veterinarian Grant Miller, director of regulatory affairs at the California Veterinary Medical Association
The board, which licenses veterinarians, requires veterinarians to have a VCPR – veterinarian client patient relationship – for all animals in their care. To establish a VCPR, a veterinarian must physically examine an animal before dispensing veterinary advice or medication. Violations are determined on a case-by-case basis, and fines vary.
Grant Miller, director of regulatory affairs at California Veterinary Medical Association, said the VCPR cannot be established solely by electronic means, according to the association’s policy on Veterinary Telehealth. The association advocates for animals and the profession.
In a virtual consultation, even the most attentive pet owner might miss subtle signs or symptoms that an animal can’t express, veterinarians said. A physical examination allows the veterinarian to offer a more compete assessment of the animal’s condition, Miller said.
“You have to be acquainted with an animal” to provide appropriate care, Miller said. “That is hard to do over a computer.”
As part of Vet24seven’s user agreement, veterinarians agree to honor the VCPR requirement, said Ed Blach, veterinarian and co-founder of Vet24seven. If the pet owner using the app is not a client of the veterinarian in the virtual consultation, Vet24seven advises the veterinarian to refer the pet owner to a clinic. The pet owner is still charged the consultation fee.
“Not every call requires a VCPR. There is no law that says a veterinarian can’t be an educator to a potential client,” said Blach, who estimated that about half of pet owners do not use traditional veterinary services.
Vet24seven is not intended to replace regular office visits but could allow veterinarians to improve care between visits, Blach said.
But Dr. Diljit Kamboj, veterinarian and owner of South Sacramento Pet Hospital, said he thinks the app could hurt the quality of care an animal receives.
“It is crucial that we do physical examinations,” Kamboj said. “How am I supposed to give advice if I don’t know what’s going on with the pet?”
Lai said the service allows owners to forgo often used but not always accurate information found on the Internet to determine if a trip to the clinic is necessary.
“The problem with Dr. Google is everyone believes what’s on the Internet is real and true and good,” Lai said. “Veterinarians have the ability and expertise to filter that information.”