It is common knowledge that the veterinary sector in the US and Canada has been plagued with many challenges over several years, with no relief in sight. Some of these challenges were amplified by the pandemic. According to the CVMA and American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), there is an ongoing shortage of veterinarians, in part due to increased demand, limited veterinary school capacity, and a lack of incentives - particularly in rural areas. This shortage creates a domino effect leading to:
work-life balance issues,
industry exits, and unfortunately,
a decline in the quality of care our pets receive.
The intersection of these issues has created a demand for solutions like teletriage. These services aim to address the gaps in accessibility of veterinary care, support overburdened clinics, and provide assistance to relieve the stress on both pet owners and veterinary professionals.
In this post, we will provide an in-depth overview of the benefits of veterinary teletriage, which serve to improve efficiencies, support staff, and improve overall care for those who need it most and cannot speak for themselves.
Why is Teletriage Essential for Modern Practices?
Teletriage services have an impact on efficiency, client satisfaction, as well as a clinic's overall profits. For example, teletriage will weed out the non-emergency calls so the on-call vet does not need to be dispatched. Animal HealthLink, for example, diverts an average of 75% of after-hours calls, allowing DVM’s to preserve more of their precious time off when they’re on-call. In addition, if burnout and staff turnover is reduced, a clinic will not have to endure the cost of replacing a vet, which can be more than $60K USD. For urban practices referring to ER after-hours, each after-hours call that is non-urgent and deferred to regular hours means that clients are reassured and will visit their vet instead of an ER hospital. This means more appointment income for the clinic using teletriage. This also allows for the ER to focus on the high acuity cases that they are presented with.
14 Reasons to Adopt Teletriage Into Your Veterinary Practice
Ready for the gritty details? Let’s get into it.
1. Prompt Response Times
Pet owners will reach an operator immediately. One of Animal HealthLink’s strengths is that all our teletriage operators are experienced RVTs.This fosters positive relationships between clinics and their clients by allowing them to seek advice from trained professionals who care, are ready to help, and can provide a sense of reassurance and calm. Our RVTs are required to have 5 years of clinical experience, but our team members have an average of 15 years. This ensures our clients and their patients are in capable hands.
It is important to note that not all teletriage services have RVT operators. We believe in the efficacy of having RVTs on the lines, so several of the benefits listed in this article assume that RVTs are the operators.
2. 24/7 Availability
Emergencies can happen at any time, therefore, it’s important to have a structure for handling cases outside regular hours that is desirable for all parties involved. One blog article from the Whole Dog Journal in 2021 discusses how many hospitals in the US have indefinitely suspended their 24-hour emergency service. This is a concern for many pet owners and exacerbates the shortage of available round-the-clock veterinary care. Due to the unpredictability of emergencies and the availability of 24-hour support, offering after-hours teletriage could attract clients to your clinic who are concerned about these scenarios.
3. Safe & Efficient Triage Process
It’s vital not only for triage to be done swiftly, but also thoroughly and correctly. Ensuring that your practice uses standardized triage algorithms will not only lead to better outcomes for your patients, but it will also instill confidence in your practice among your clients. While there are many best-practices for establishing a triage system, services like Animal HealthLink already use exclusive, veterinarian approved triage algorithms that are extensively researched and boast a 99% safety rating. Using a highly rated system like this will leave nothing to chance, setting you and your patients up for success.
4. Reduced Stress for Pet Owners
When a pet is unwell, it’s a highly stressful experience for the owner. Emotions can run rampant, and this stress can be passed on to the veterinarian. Angry, sad, grief stricken pet owners can exhibit aggressive, rude, or bullying behaviors. With a teletriage service, the operators can give personalized, professional advice and reassurance to each individual caller. This allows your clients to be heard, and relieves some of the most draining customer service tasks for vets and their staff.
5. Professional Advice
Teletriage services like ours give pet owners direct access to an RVT who is eager to help. RVTs are qualified to give advice, recommendations, and assurance. This instills confidence among pet owners regarding the information they are provided. One report suggests that 84% of pet owners trust an RVT as much as they trust a veterinarian.
6. Improved Patient Outcomes
Time is of the essence in a true emergency. When a pet is in distress, and pet owners can have direct access to qualified RVTs, responses are quick and coordinated. Logistics for both the on-call vet, and the caller are handled by the RVT, as well as financial conversations and first aid advice, depending on the teletriage provider. This coordination and rapid response can be life-saving.
7. Improved Hospital Workflow
In an emergency situation where a patient needs to be sent to hospital, a teletriage service ensures that the hospital staff and pet parents are well prepared for the patient’s arrival. This includes collecting patient histories, preparing pet owners for costs, and estimating time of arrival. In the meantime, ER staff can focus on their patients and tasks in front of them.
8. Risk Mitigation
Emergencies have little room for error. If cases are mishandled or delayed due to a lack of guidance or confusion after-hours, not only would the patient suffer the consequences, but there could be more trouble down the line. Angry or let down pet owners may leave negative reviews of your practice to discourage others from patronizing your clinic. In the worst cases, some may pursue legal action. By utilizing a teletriage service, opportunities for critical mistakes happening from miscommunications are greatly reduced.
9. Cost Effectiveness
Bottom-line, a teletriage service greatly reduces unnecessary emergency visits. This brings multiple resource savings for both clinics and pet owners.
On call vets can rely on having more time off
Costs associated with non-emergencies are not incurred
Vets will be more well-rested during regular hours
Quality of care during regular hours is improved
Appointments deferred to regular hours brings revenue to the clinic that would otherwise go to the 24-hour hospital
Clients are happier and more likely to be good ambassadors of your practice
On call vets have more capacity to handle true emergencies, and again, keep revenue flowing to their practice
For Pet Owners:
Help is at their fingertips
Reassurance, guidance, and advice are sometimes all they need to handle a concern that can be addressed during regular business hours
They want to prevent after-hours hospital trips if they can
They can save money on an emergency visit if a case is manageable at home
They can keep supporting their local vet clinic
Their time is saved and they experience less disruption
10. Professional Support for On Call Vets
Sometimes it can seem like no one is looking out for the vets and their staff, while they work tirelessly to serve their patients and their owners. Teletriage services can provide that much needed support. Logistics for reaching a case, and the provision of important context will ensure the on call vet’s readiness to handle the emergency. The vet’s well-being is also considered, through routine safety checks to ensure the vet reaches the client and returns home safely.
11. Competitive Advantage
Using a teletriage service will become a unique selling point for your practice. Depending on your community, if you are rural, you could be one of the only practices that has any sort of after-hours care. If you are urban, you could differentiate yourself from your competitors. While several direct-to-consumer solutions exist, many consumers would rather utilize their regular vet in the event of a potential emergency. Teletriage gives you an opportunity to enhance your reputation and attract clients who are seeking this comprehensive service option.
12. Remote Access and Convenience
The ability to not have to physically visit a clinic is a game-changer. Not only is it more convenient for you and your customers, but it provides an accessibility solution. If a client is out of town, cannot drive, or has other obstacles making it difficult for them to come in, they can be assured that they will get the advice they need and can plan from there.
13. Increased Support for Underserved Communities
According to Successful Farming, over 500 counties in the US are experiencing a vet shortage. This is especially true for rural areas. Many people who live in these underserved areas have limited options and access to care, making a potential emergency even more stressful. When a rural practice has teletriage equipped, pet owners in the area are able to get advice without having to travel unreasonable distances. Moreover, nothing is worse than driving several hours to a hospital and back for a concern that ends up being insignificant. The time and costs that your clients save are multiplied. It’s also worth noting that your clients’ dollars will be supporting your practice, rather than ER departments that are hours away.
14. Staff Retention
According to the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, burnout costs the US veterinary industry two billion dollars per year. For an individual practice that loses a vet, the cost could be upwards of $60,000 USD. According to a Frontiers in Veterinary Science article, 44% of veterinary practitioners less than 10 years post grad consider leaving the profession altogether. VetHelpDirect cites a 2021 RCVS Survey of the Veterinary Profession finding that 60% of vets who left the profession attribute a lack of work-life balance as their main reason for leaving. Long and unsocial hours were another major reason for professional burnout and industry exits.On-call shifts have a negative impact on veterinarian job satisfaction, well-being and personal relationships and the on-call part of the job is the #1 reason that veterinarians leave rural practice. It is more important than ever to prioritize work satisfaction among veterinary professionals. Integrating a solution that allows your staff to improve their work-life balance can drastically improve their well-being and give them a reason to stay.
Reasons to Choose Animal HealthLink as Your TeleTriage Provider
Animal HealthLink can provide all of the above listed benefits for you and your veterinary practice. In summary, here are the benefits that only we provide:
Our operators are all RVTs
We operate across both the USA and Canada
Our RVTs have an average of 15 years’ experience
The minimum experience we require of an RVT is 5 years
We have a 99% safety margin
We were built by veterinary professionals, for veterinary professionals
We utilize proprietary triage algorithms
We’ve conducted over 100,000 triages
75% of calls on average are identified as non-emergencies.
We can triage patients over the phone, or via text and video chat
Our RVTs are experienced with the widest range of patients, including:
Exotic (including birds, reptiles, and pocket pets)
Production animal (including bovine and small ruminants)
In conclusion, you can’t go wrong with offering a teletriage service to your clients. Vet shortages are showing no signs of slowing down, and burnout is a more real risk than ever before. With the pandemic surge in pet-ownership, demand for veterinary services is high across the board. In our increasingly digital world, customers are expecting to have access to more convenient, technologically driven solutions to their everyday problems.
If you’d like to learn more about teletriage, or if you’re ready to sign up, please fill out our contact form, and we’ll be in touch soon.
Our Gift to You
One last thing! We know how busy the holiday season can get. Hazards are everywhere, and it’s normal to see a spike in after-hours calls and potential emergencies. Or, if you are resolving to implement teletriage in 2024, we have an offer for you. If you sign-up for Animal HealthLink’s teletriage service for one year before January 31st, 2024, we will gift your practice with a $250 gift card to the merchant of your choice OR a $250 donation to a charity of your choice.