While many people are now familiar with virtual care for their own health due to the pandemic, far fewer people have experience with pet telehealth. As the current vet shortage crisis has led to long waits and long drives for in-person appointments, more people have begun turning to virtual vet clinics to get fast relief for their pets’ health issues. But not all virtual veterinary practices work the same way. From who provides your pet’s care to whether prescriptions are available, there’s a lot to consider when choosing a pet telehealth service.
As a pet parent myself, I know how important a pet’s health and the quality of care they receive are to their humans. This is why I want to be as transparent as possible about the work that goes into providing high-quality care virtually at Dutch, how we use technology to enhance the care pets receive, and the limitations of virtual care. I’ll also share a real patient story to demonstrate how Dutch works.
Fast, affordable access to high-quality care
The health and safety of pets is our top priority at Dutch. We empower our vets to provide top-quality care through the smart use of technology. Our online questionnaires can instantly flag potential issues to inform the diagnosis and care plan for each pet. We also use it to automate follow-up and alert vets when a patient’s treatment plan requires adjusting — preventing pets in need from slipping through the cracks. Checking in also helps remind pet parents to keep up with treatments. You won’t typically find this type of follow-up with busy in-person clinics.
We’ve developed a platform that allows vets to provide the same — if not better — standard of care than the pet would receive at an in-person visit. And we do this in a way that’s more affordable and significantly faster given the current veterinary shortage.
All licensed veterinarians, no vet techs or nurses
Many other virtual vet services use the term “veterinary professional” and often have patients speak with a veterinary technician or nurse rather than a veterinarian. At Dutch, you’ll only speak to licensed veterinarians. And great care requires great veterinarians, so all of our vets go through a background check and screening process so rigorous that we only end up working with 32% of the veterinarians who apply.
Protocols designed by top specialists
We work with veterinary specialists to design our questionnaires and protocols. These are leaders in their field who have gone through additional coursework to become board-certified in their area of specialty — and there are very few of them in the country. This allows you to benefit from the expertise of specialists you wouldn’t likely wouldn’t have access to otherwise. For instance, we worked with 4 of only 80 board-certified veterinary behaviorists in the U.S. to create our anxiety questionnaire and treatment plans. The interactive questionnaire has roughly 50 questions that pet parents fill out prior to an appointment for anxiety. Certain answers will trigger additional questions that dive deeper into a topic. The questionnaire can reveal environmental, social, or situational stress/anxiety.
A complement to in-person veterinary care, not a replacement
I want to highlight that telemedicine is not an alternative to an in-person relationship with a veterinarian. Every pet should see an in-person vet at least once a year for a checkup and vaccinations. There are also certain health issues that require an in-person exam and diagnostics — and our vets will always tell pet parents when they need to see an in-person vet. Telemedicine is simply an additional tool that can eliminate unnecessary visits, prevent escalating emergencies, and lower costs of care. It can also be a front door to healthcare. We’ve continually seen that roughly 50% of Dutch members report not having a regular veterinarian. By eliminating some of the barriers of talking to a vet, telemedicine can bring more pet parents into the healthcare system, which would be a win for all in the veterinary field.
Dutch patient story: Oscar the anxious dog
The best way to illustrate how we work is through a real patient example. Names have been changed for privacy.
Pet parent: Tom Dog: Oscar
Problem: Oscar was getting increasingly scared around strangers, bikes, and other modes of transportation despite his in-person vet prescribing trazodone for him.
Step 1: Pre-visit Questionnaire
Tom filled out a pre-call questionnaire with roughly 50 questions. It’s interactive with certain answers leading to further questions. For example, when Tom replied yes to a question about whether Oscar had taken any medication to try to help his anxiety, it then asked what medication it was, how well it worked, and whether he was still taking it. Tom mentioned that trazodone seemed to help a little but made Oscar sleepy.
Step 2: Virtual Vet Visit
Tom was able to connect over video with a veterinarian licensed in his state in about an hour. During the call, the vet went over the pre-visit questionnaire, asked for additional information and specific behavior examples, and had Tom put Oscar on camera so she could see him and his environment. She also had Tom perform a few simple checks on him. The vet diagnosed Oscar with general and situational anxiety. They discussed treatment options and decided on a plan to help Oscar.
Step 3: Post-Visit Summary
The vet sent Tom a message with a post-visit summary that includes Oscar’s anxiety diagnosis and a 30-day treatment plan that included a combination of prescription and over-the-counter medications as well as behavior modification and enrichment advice.
Step 4: Follow-up
The power of digital-first solutions is that things like follow-up can be automated so we can make sure treatment plans are working and make adjustments if needed. In this case, Tom shared that Oscar was doing very well on his new prescription anxiety medications and no longer needed trazodone. The vet removed trazodone from his automatic shipments.
A commitment to making vet care accessible to all
Oscar — like many other pets — had been to an in-person vet for his issue before, but didn’t get the relief he needed. And going back for follow-up visits can be difficult and expensive. In addition, a huge number of pets face long delays in getting the care they need or don’t get it at all due to lack of access or cost. I went through this myself when my dog, Eddie, had a serious health emergency and I had to drive 35 miles and wait 8 hours overnight for a slot to open up. I knew there had to be a better way.
This is why I started Dutch. And this is why we’re committed to doing the hard work necessary to provide care that’s as good as or better than the care provided in person — from seeking out top specialists to design our protocols to developing systems that automatically flag issues to our vets. We want every pet parent to have fast, convenient, and affordable access to licensed vets whenever their pet has a health issue.