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Telemedicine Is Coming to the Vets, Part 2: Highlight on BabelBark

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Apr 16, 2020 at 3:57 pm
Carolyn Shadle

This is the second in a series of telehealth articles to be published on the VetPartners blog. Each article in the series will feature a different veterinary telemedicine option, providing valuable insight for veterinary professionals, consultants, and pet owners. Communications professional and freelance journalist Carolyn Shadle is not associated with BabelBark or any other telemedicine company. She received no compensation—monetary or otherwise—from VetPartners or BabelBark for authoring this article. 

 

Last month, I wrote the first in this “Telemedicine Is Coming to the Vets” series. I had no idea that this new phenomenon in veterinary health care delivery would arrive just in time for a global pandemic! Fortunately for many practices and their clients, telemedicine was familiar. And, for those who had not yet ventured into this new form of service delivery, the technology had been developed and was ready for them.

To learn more about veterinary telemedicine options, I turned to Bruce Truman, a VetPartners colleague. He is part of the team that created BabelBark, which launched four years ago and was ready for the telemedicine craze that COVID-19 created.

An ecosystem of care

The unique feature of BabelBark is its free app, which pet owners use to connect to pet care providers, such as veterinarians, groomers, pet sitters, trainers, and boarders. The web-based platforms—BizBark for pet businesses and BabelBark for veterinary practices—are used to connect everyone.

Through this app, pet parents appreciate knowing that nothing is overlooked—be it an accident while at a boarding facility, a lump discovered by a groomer, or mobility issues observed by a trainer. The information is made available to the pet care business, the owners, and their veterinarians.

Jocelyn Rowe, the owner of Tender Paws Cobble Hill Doggie Day Care in British Columbia, Canada, with services in grooming, walking, and training, subscribes to BizBark and encourages her clients to input information such as dietary needs, activity, and emergency contacts.

One of Jocelyn’s patients was a dog brought to her to deal with weight loss and fitness issues. She set up a program, added an activity tracker to the dog’s collar, and monitored the dog’s activity. This enabled her to correlate the dog’s weight loss and activity with the program.

Freeing up staff

Despite this revolutionary concept, BabelBark, through its BabelVet services, was originally sought after simply as a way to make it more convenient for practices to connect with their clients. Some practices also found that by using the platform they were able to free up staff and better utilize exam rooms. Some staff could offer services, such as medical progress exams, remotely through their telemedicine platform. This includes such services as post-surgical evaluations, or evaluation of skin disorders, wound healing, ear infections, or bladder infections.

24/7 access

Even before COVID-19, BabelBark was supplementing veterinary staff by providing a 24/7 hotline for triage.  Through a partnership with whiskerDocs, clients can call and have their pets’ medical needs triaged remotely. The clients’ practices receive details of the call and outcomes to ensure continuity of care. When the whiskerDoc team determines that the pet needs to be seen at the practice, the practice staff is notified. Practices have found this service helpful in assisting them with after-hours cases and overflow. When COVID-19 reared its ugly head, practices that were not short staffed before, suddenly found some of their staff members unable to come in. This triage was their support.

The new normal: From curbside to telemedicine

When the pandemic hit, practices sought ways to honor the social distancing directive. Meeting their clients at the curb and taking the pet inside the practice was a convenient and safe service. When some states stopped allowing that, those with a telemedicine platform were ready to provide remote services—perfect for managing chronic conditions and progress exams.

Concern for the loss of revenue due to the cancellation of wellness visits led many practices to realize that they can rebook wellness visits as remote care, charge their clients, and provide the necessary prescriptions to keep their patients on track.

Some states relaxed their veterinary-client-patient relationship (VCPR) regulations, which had required that a veterinary doctor see the pet prior to providing remote services. While wanting to maintain a high standard of care, the pandemic has helped us to acknowledge that telemedicine, without a prior relationship, may be necessary for the health of the animal. (Since this may be in flux, it’s important to check your local state regulations.)

Monitoring pet well-being

dog with owner and computer

Beyond convenience and efficiency, BabelVet customers have discovered an additional benefit provided by the patient monitoring app. This feature enables the vet and the client to share pet health metrics, including details about weight, diet, nutrition, medication compliance, and activity or exercise. While practices have traditionally had a lot of information in their electronic medical records software, this app enables clients to make additions. They might enter the pet’s registration and microchip ID and record pet food or prescriptions purchased elsewhere, which can be important for the vet to know in the event of an allergy or other contraindications. It may also be important to monitor exercise and activity while managing mobility issues or weight control.

Shea Cox, DVM, owner of Pet Hospice sights an example of how she can monitor her patients’ programs remotely. For example, one of her patients was suffering from arthritis and had become less engaged with shorter and shorter walks. The doctor managed the dog’s pain and then, with the use of the activity tracker, she and the dog’s owner were both able to see when the dog was gradually enjoying more walking. Together they determined that the pain management was working. Dr. Cox felt that this data motivated the client to maintain compliance with the exercise regime.

Communication

Client communication is, of course, basic to any telehealth service. BabelVet links to the BabelBark mobile app so the practice can stay connected to its clients and share updates or education. A live and asynchronous secure messaging platform enables vets and clients to share photos, videos, and text messages. A component called “Promotions” enables the veterinary practice to create and push custom content to its clients using the BabelBark app.

A year ago, Forbes recognized BabelBark as offering the world’s only globally enabled, horizontal digital platform for the pet industry. Forbes noted that this sharing technology is similar to Uber or Airbnb in the sense that it is a mobile-first platform adding mutual value to an ecosystem for pet owners, businesses, and animal hospitals.

Struggling to keep up with the veterinary industry’s new normal? If you haven’t already, embrace technology and reach out to a telemedicine provider so you can continue to care for your patients and clients safely.

 

VetPartners plans to publish one article of this series per month. The author has featured, or will feature, the following telehealth companies: 

  • VetCareShare
  • BabelBark
  • AirVet
  • Medici
  • Guardian Vets
  • Fuzzy Connect

Are you a veterinary telemedicine company not listed above? Contact the author for a chance to be included in this series!

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Carolyn Shadle
Carolyn C. Shadle, PhD, is the director of Interpersonal Communication Services, Inc., which assists individuals and organizations in improving their interpersonal relations. Those in the veterinary profession know her as the co-author of "Communication Case Studies: Building Interpersonal Skills in the Veterinary Practice," published by the American Animal Hospital Association, and by her presentations at regional and national veterinary conferences. She holds a PhD in organizational and interpersonal communication.

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