New veterinary telemedicine service aims to save clients time, money
How many times have you wished you were compensated for the time you spend on the phone with clients? And how often have clients said they wished they had a better way of knowing whether an in-person visit to the office was really necessary? Probably more times than you can count.
A new service called LiveDVM seeks to solve these problems by offering clients phone call, text or video appointments for a fee. For $49.95, a client can call the LiveDVM line, whether after hours or during the regular business day, to get advice on a health question regarding their pet, check in for follow-up after a previous office visit, or receive a clear answer on whether the pet needs to be seen in person—whether immediately, the following morning or in the next couple of weeks.
The brainchild of Jeff Werber, DVM, founder of Century Veterinary Group in Los Angeles, LiveDVM seeks to reinforce the veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) by providing off-hours service that directs clients straight back to their own provider.
“Our mission is to not take business away from veterinarians, but to become an additional arm working along with doctors in our network,” says Dr. Werber.
To make this happen, veterinarians can sign up to join the network at livedvm.com. The yearly fee per practice is $600, whether one veterinarian or 20 veterinarians sign on to take calls. “If the service saves that practice just two or three appointments a year—clients who would have made unnecessary trips to the emergency clinic rather than waiting till the next day to see their own veterinarian—it pays for itself,” Dr. Werber says.
Doctors sign up to take shifts in their off hours to answer calls from clients. When a client calls, the LiveDVM service matches that person with a doctor from their own practice, when one is available. LiveDVM has access to that hospital’s records, making personalized service possible. The doctor then uses a phone call, text message conversation or videoconference chat to communicate with the client about what’s going on with their pet, perhaps even seeing the animal virtually.
“To protect the client’s bond with their own veterinarian, we won’t match a caller with a doctor within 50 miles of their home practice when their own veterinarian isn’t available,” says Dr. Werber. “We don’t want our doctors to fear losing clients.”
Also, when the client is matched with a veterinarian who’s not their own (in other words, who does not have an established VCPR), the doctor follows a protocol that’s designed to educate the pet owner and suggest hypothetical scenarios—more of a “telehealth” approach than actual “telemedicine”—so as to stay within legal guidelines. “And if there’s the slightest shadow of a doubt that a patient needs to be seen, we will send them to their own practice or their local emergency clinic,” Dr. Werber says.
The 15-minute consultation costs the client $49.95. Dr. Werber says most clients are happy to pay that if it means not taking time off work, hauling a pet across town, sitting through an appointment and interrupting their day. And in his case, he offers an extra incentive for clients to use the service: If, after the consultation, clients still need to bring in a pet, he only charges the difference between his practice visit fee and the consultation fee. For just $19 more, they can be seen in clinic if necessary.
And what about benefits to the providing doctor? The doctor taking the call gets $35, the hospital that joined the network gets $5, and the balance of $9.95 goes to LiveDVM. If the veterinarian takes four 15-minute calls while watching television on Sunday afternoon, he or she earns $140.
Dr. Werber and his partner, Chance White (recently of savethislife.com), have pulled together a board of directors consisting of a number of veterinary industry innovation illuminati—including Lori Teller, DVM, DABVP, who helped create the AVMA’s telemedicine policy, Chad Dodd, DVM, of Animatas Consulting, and Bruce Truman, MBA, of BLT Consulting—who believe strongly in what he’s doing, he says.
Dr. Dodd likens the new company to a hybrid car. “A hybrid car takes the strengths of two technologies to make an even better product,” he says. “At LiveDVM we combine virtual care with in-clinic care to provide the best care for our pets. We are using technology to make the connection even stronger.”
The benefit to doctors is retaining a client during off hours, squeezing in more appointments than you can in a clinical setting, and saving clients time and stress when they might otherwise run to an emergency clinic for something that isn’t truly an emergency. “Most of the time pet owners just want someone to talk to in order to find out if their pet needs to be seen—and we know from industry statistics that 80 percent of ‘emergencies’ actually arent,” Dr. Werber says. “Clients love concierge service from their veterinarians, and this is a way to offer it and still be compensated. It’s a win for all.”