Farm Journal’s Pork written by Jennifer Shike.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the shortage of food animal veterinarians have catapulted the concept of telemedicine forward. As the threat of African swine fever (ASF) inches closer to the U.S., experts say telemedicine could become an even more useful tool for the pork industry to utilize.
“In the event of an outbreak of ASF in the U.S., veterinary resources will become even more severely strained as biosecurity, distance and logistical barriers will necessitate the use of telemedicine to limit in-person contact with affected swine and ensure timely decision-making,” says Gil Patterson, VMD, chief medical officer at veterinary technology company, VetNOW.
What Exactly is Telemedicine?
When it comes to telemedicine, food animal veterinarians have been practicing the concept for some time even if they didn’t realize it, Patterson explains.
“Veterinarians have been haphazardly sharing pics and sending texts for a long time. Moving those client communications to a formalized telemedicine platform provides a degree of professionalism and robustness that wasn’t there before,” Patterson says.
Telemedicine services can offer a secure platform for veterinarians to conduct farm or pet visits with clients within an established Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship (VCPR), and allows for the sharing and storage of medical documents and multimedia (photos/live video) under one umbrella. It also allows the veterinarian to track time and effort, make notes about cases or communication history, and more.
Electronic monitoring of herds and electronic prescriptions are part of telemedicine, too, explains Abbey Canon, DVM, director of public health and communications for the American Association of Swine Veterinarians.
“No doubt we will continue to expand technology that can facilitate telemedicine,” she adds.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has a policy on telemedicine, Canon points out. That policy states, “The AVMA believes that veterinary telemedicine should only be conducted within an existing VCPR, with the exception for advice given in an emergency until that patient can be seen by a veterinarian.”
COVID-19 brought telemedicine into the limelight, but what does the future of this service hold?
“Whether we like it or not, COVID-19 certainly pushed the industry along into the future. Everyone’s comfort level and acceptance of doing meetings on Zoom is forever changed. We’ve gotten savvier about meeting online. We’ve discovered ways to be present and connect with people like never before,” he says.
Telemedicine is not intended to replace in-person visits. Patterson believes it’s critically important for veterinarians to be on the farm. But in between those visits, there are things that might pop up.
Telemedicine is a tool to supplement the accessibility and availability of veterinarians in between those on-farm visits, especially when some veterinarians and farms are hundreds of miles apart.
“I see a lot of advantages to telemedicine in terms of helping the animals,” he says. “Better veterinary care and easier access to veterinary care first and foremost is going to equal better animal health.”
Five Ways Telemedicine Can Help in an ASF Outbreak
If an ASF outbreak takes place in the U.S. and is controlled and exports can return within two years, Dermot Hayes, an Iowa State University economist, says it will still result in $15 billion in lost revenue. If it isn’t controlled, he projects that number at $50 billion in lost revenue over 10 years.
To say an ASF outbreak would be devastating is an understatement.
Telemedicine could play an important role in an ASF response strategy. Patterson shares five valuable ways telemedicine can help.
1. A tool to rapidly get “eyes” into a farm when there is a suspected ASF case, while providing oversight and direction of diagnostic sample collection.
2. A platform to support regional business continuity as part of swine movement risk assessments.
3. A way to perform biosecurity auditing of farms to identify at-risk populations.
4. A secure medium to discuss potentially sensitive conversations where high-impact decisions need to be made.
5. An opportunity to share and synchronize information from state and federal diagnostic labs.
Read the full article HERE
Telemedicine and African Swine Fever: 5 Reasons to Take a Closer Look