Dog looking at laptop screen Often, veterinarians can use video chat capabilities to assess the condition of the pet, monitor a pet’s progress between visits, and even conduct online consultations. (Photo: Shutterstock)

COVID-19 has had an effect on almost every aspect of our lives, including the way Americans spend their days and spend their money. The pet spending sector is no different.

In 2019, Americans spent over $95 billion on their pets—an all-time high. Now, even amid drastic market pullback during the coronavirus crisis, stock value of online pet product retailer Chewy skyrocketed in March. The message is clear: pet owners aren’t looking to cut back on pet spending anytime soon, instead they’re looking for convenient, modern ways to get what their pet needs.

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But, life as we know it has changed. A trip out of the house now requires planning and purpose, and that includes routine health appointments. For pet parents, it’s no longer the status quo to walk into your neighborhood veterinary office when your dog isn’t acting like himself. In the last two weeks of March, Pets Best telehealth service hit record high call volume, as more and more pet owners are turning to virtual veterinary support during the pandemic.

Understanding virtual veterinary care

More and more pet owners are recognizing the convenience of using technology when seeking medical treatment for pets. Virtual care can look like a lot of things, but most broadly it describes any health care provider that uses some type of technology to interact with patients and render care. Often, veterinarians can even use video chat capabilities to assess the condition of the pet, monitor a pet’s progress between visits, and even conduct online consultations. Scenarios such as postsurgical care, general wellness advice, after hours care, or hospice are also suitable for virtual care.

Benefits of virtual care

In addition to convenience, virtual can limit our exposure during the age of social distancing. There’s no doubt the increase of veterinary telehealth will carry on beyond COVID-19, as Americans adjust to new technology—many of whom could have been benefiting from services like these all along. Pets Best provides each policyholder access to a 24/7 pet helpline that can provide assistance with medical or behavioral questions. Customers can text, call or chat with a licensed professional from the comfort of their home.

What about health concerns that can’t be handled virtually?

Increased demand for virtual care comes with its concerns. Virtual care can’t serve as a substitution for an actual visit to the veterinarian, especially in states that require a VCPR (Veterinary Client Patient Relationship) before prescribing medication or rendering care. Currently, a VCPR cannot be established via telemedicine. While this roadblock still stands, a lot would have to happen at the state legislative level in order to meet pet owners potential desire for broadened virtual care services for their pets.

The reality is, no matter what is going on in the world we will always continue to care for our pets. We are a nation who adapts to adversity, and we are all doing what we can to keep life as “normal” as we can. As we are continuing to adapt, industries across the globe are realizing quickly that our processes can be streamlined from what we have been doing for the last 50 years in veterinary care. While we don’t know what the future holds, or where this new normal might take us, we are sure of our heath, our families and our pets as top priorities.

Chris Middleton is senior vice president and general manager at Pets Best Insurance Services.

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