Virtual vets are raking in funding—is pet telehealth the next big thing?

Virtual vets are raking in funding—is pet telehealth the next big thing?

by Serenity Gibbons
August 20, 2020

Virtual vets are raking in funding—is pet telehealth the next big thing?

Virtual vets are raking in funding—is pet telehealth the next big thing?

by Serenity Gibbons
August 20, 2020

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In human healthcare, telemedicine is booming. Telemedicine stocks like Teladoc and One Medical have doubled this year, and 90% of healthcare executives say their organizations are developing or already have a telehealth application. 

Connecting virtually for human healthcare has become the new normal. It should come as no surprise, then, that veterinary telemedicine is surging in popularity, too.

About two-thirds of U.S. households own a pet, and Americans are expected to spend about $75 billion on their pets this year. To many animal lovers, their pets are family. They’re willing to spend a lot of money to keep them happy and healthy — much of that on vet care. 

Unfortunately, veterinary care can be a logistical challenge for many pet owners. Long car rides with stressed animals and anxiety-producing office visits can cause many pet parents to fall back on “Dr. Google” to avoid the trip altogether. The result is often delayed care, pricey emergency visits and poor clinical outcomes.

COVID-19’s impact on pet care

Before COVID-19 changed everything, pet owners had few options outside a traditional trip to the vet. But since the FDA lifted its requirement on in-person veterinary examinations for fear of spreading the virus, pet telemedicine has boomed. 

Companies like Airvet, which recently announced a $14 million Series A funding round, are delivering on-demand virtual care to pet parents everywhere. Instead of a 2 a.m. Google search to figure out why Fluffy is throwing up, pet owners can chat live with a veterinarian from the comfort of their living room. 

Airvet is one of many platforms that have seen a spike. Daily downloads for virtual vet apps rose 40% in March. Telemedicine platform Medici has seen pet consultations jump 170% per month, while whiskerDocs, a chat platform that partners with large employers, has seen its business double.

How veterinary telemedicine works

Today, virtual vet offerings vary in format and services available. Some practices, such as VCA Animal Hospitals, have simply added video consultations to their menu. Telemedicine apps not affiliated with a specific clinic may give users the option to connect with their current vet or speak with a different one if theirs isn’t available. Veterinarians on these apps may offer care via text, chat, video or all three.

It’s also important to note that there are some limitations to virtual care. To practice true telemedicine (i.e., diagnosing an illness and writing prescriptions), a vet must have an established veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) with a client, which can only be created in-person. 

Unfortunately, millions of pet owners don’t have a primary veterinarian, or their primary vet isn’t available when their pets need care. In those cases, pet owners can still get help through an app, but this falls into the category of “telehealth” rather than telemedicine. A telehealth vet is allowed to provide general medical advice, but without an established VCPR, the veterinarian cannot legally diagnose a pet or prescribe medications, barring an emergency. 

Still, peace of mind can be priceless to pet owners who may be uncertain about the seriousness of their pet’s symptoms. Chatting with a licensed vet could save a pet’s life — or save the owner a costly emergency visit.

For savvy entrepreneurs, pet telemedicine presents some terrific new opportunities. Here are a few ways you can claim a share of this lucrative market:

1. Identify an underserved niche.

General pet telemedicine is quickly becoming a crowded field, but that just means that new entrants will have to work harder to differentiate themselves. One way to stand out is to find your niche — a segment of the pet population that could use specialized care or expertise.

Feline-only businesses have sprung up in the brick-and-mortar space — from cats-only veterinary clinics to cat hotels. Why not niche down in the virtual space to provide expert advice on cats, horses, livestock or dogs with special needs?

2. Partner with pet insurers

Pet insurance is one of the fastest-growing products in the insurance sector. This year, State Farm joined forces with Trupanion to provide medical insurance for pets. They’re one of a host of carriers that have purchased small pet-insurance companies or developed their own in-house offerings.

To reduce the cost of care, provider-owned human clinics and practices have sprung up across the country. Vertical integration could be the next step for the pet telemedicine industry. Partnering with a pet insurance carrier would be a win-win scenario: It would give virtual vets a steady stream of new clients, while providing lower-cost pet care and saving insurers money.

3. Redefine pet care

While telemedicine has been stymied by regulatory hurdles, the coronavirus could change all that. As more pet owners access telemedicine for their furry friends, they’ll be primed to experience veterinary care in a whole new way. 

Aim to make telehealth as seamless as possible while improving preventative care. A telemedicine platform that offers two-day shipping on pet prescriptions and mobile reminders for medications could elevate the entire vet experience and become indispensable for pet parents.

Although it’s still a nascent industry, pet telemedicine is growing like wildfire. Laws are continually evolving to offer more flexibility for virtual care, and pet owners are responding to their new options with enthusiasm. Entrepreneurs who can meet the needs of dedicated pet parents will fetch their share of this growing market.

This article was written by Serenity Gibbons from Forbes and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

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