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Veterinarians turn to pet telemedicine during coronavirus pandemic

The FDA has temporarily eased some restrictions in order to allow veterinarians to use telemedicine more to treat animals during the pandemic.

ST PAUL, Minnesota — Veterinary clinics are having to make changes amid COVID-19. 

Grand Avenue Veterinary Center in St. Paul is still open but right now they're only seeing animals for issues that can't wait. The center is offering curbside service and using telemedicine more. 

"To some degree we have already been able to provide some medical advice using that platform but now we're at a time when we have to provide some form of telemedicine with a little more structure," said Jen Seidl, a veterinarian at Grand Avenue Veterinary Center.

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While there are still some things they can't do through telemedicine, Seidl said it's an effective tool.

"There are are a lot of things that this applies to. We can troubleshoot things like digestive issues; we can look at skin rash; we can watch a dog who maybe has a limp or a lameness issue," Seidl said. 

Grand Avenue Veterinary Center is now looking at telemedicine platforms to help streamline their services to clients. One of the companies they're looking at is the pet tech company, Virtuwoof Telemedicine

Credit: Heidi Wigdahl
The pet tech company, Virtuwoof Telemedicine, is based in Minnesota.

"We've seen a very large increase in demand for this platform," said Allison Boerum, co-founder of the Minnesota-based startup. 

Boerum said while the idea came about in late 2018, they've only been in the market for a few months now. 

"It's [pet telemedicine] something that really has been thrust to the forefront with the recent situation that we're going through," Boerum said. "We're the only local company doing anything like this really in the Midwest as a whole." 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has temporarily eased some restrictions in order to allow veterinarians to use telemedicine more to treat animals during the pandemic. Seidl and Boerum said telemedicine usually requires veterinarians to have seen the pet in person over the last 12 months. That's been extended to 18 months. The FDA is also allowing veterinarians to prescribe medications through telemedicine. 

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"This is meant to be a secure platform, a way to streamline all that communication and allow veterinarians to start treating those virtual interactions as if they're in-clinic visits. So being able to capture some amount of revenue from those visits, as well," Boerum said. 

Seidl became emotional while talking about how important it is that pets get the care they need right now. 

She said, "We're home with them more every day and we're spending more time with them. I just think that it's important that we preserve that relationship, we preserve their health too."

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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.