This week on Pet Lover Geek, Lorien interviews Doctor Sarah Machell from Vetster, about telehealth and the exciting ways the veterinary industry has changed.
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00:01 Lorien Clemens
Hello pet lovers and welcome to Pet Lover Geek powered by PetHub. I'm Lorien Clemons and today we're talking about something that is super important nowadays, it's brand new to some of us, veterinary telehealth; and I have a really great guest today. She is the medical director for Vester, one of the leading veterinary telehealth services out there, and we have a ton to talk about with Doctor Sarah Machell, but we need to take a quick little break here. Make sure you hang out though all the way to the end today because there's a very special offer that Vester is giving all of our listeners. So hang tight. We're going to geek out soon with Doctor Sarah after this quick break.
00:48 Lorien Clemens
Okay, welcome back people. Without any further ado. I am so pleased to welcome on to Pet Lover Geek, Doctor Sarah Michelle. Welcome and thank you so much for being here Doctor Sarah.
00:59 Sarah Machell
Thank you very much for having me today Lorien, I'm excited.
01:02 Lorien Clemens
I am excited too and you and I were talking before we started recording. I got to see you speak this weekend at a really great Pet Care Innovation Summit event. I was just thrilled when I was like, "Oh my gosh, I'm interviewing her this morning." I just saw you speak two days ago and I'm excited that I can share you with our listeners. So if you'll help us out a little bit because like I mentioned in the intro, veterinary telehealth, is this sort of a new thing here in the United States. People still really aren't sure what it is and so before we dive in, I'd like if you could give us a quick history of Vetster in particular, and what you can do as a telehealth service for our members.
01:40 Sarah Machell
Great, thank you. So you know veterinary telehealth is definitely kind of a newer buzzword in the pet healthcare conversation. However, you know if we think about it, veterinarians in the veterinary profession have actually been supporting communications with clients using electronic means for decades, and so you know most pet owners wouldn't really put sort of the thought to it, and most veterinarians didn't either, that even communicating with a pet owner via the telephone is truly a remote communication and connection, and if we wanna get sort of technical, that's essentially the definition of telehealth. It's the delivery or the extension of delivery of veterinary care and knowledge between a veterinary professional and a pet owner using electronic means. So that electronic means could either be the telephone or in more modern times like now, using a platform like ours, Vester. So Vetster is a pretty unique and very modern approach to veterinary telehealth. We are the world's fastest telehealth platform and we connect pet owners through the Internet in a marketplace type of model with licensed veterinarians across all of North America. So as a pet owner, you can visit our site, you can search our available veterinarians based upon your geographical location and where those veterinarians are licensed to practice, as well as you can search by the veterinarians' particular area of interest, be that by species or type of practice, up to and including what languages they may speak. So it's a pretty comprehensive way to sort of narrow down a meeting with, and a conversation, and on our platform these meetings or consultations are performed through video chat. Much like our conversation today. So you meet basically with a veterinarian on a video call from the comfort of your home with your pet at home with you. You know you can talk about what concerns or questions that you may have.
03:57 Lorien Clemens
Yeah, and let's dig into that part a little bit more because I think what people like, "well she can't actually touch my pet." How does that work? And obviously, I think all of us immediately understand like I can call my doctor, my medical human doctor about XYZ, but I have to go in to do this, but now that telehealth has moved to that video aspect, what can be addressed via modern telehealth channels for veterinary care?
04:26 Sarah Machell
I love that question actually, as you would know from my speaking earlier.
04:31 Lorien Clemens
A little bit of a softball question but it's a real legitimately like something that people wanna know.
04:35 Sarah Machell
Yeah, I love that question because a lot of the time people have that concern that without perhaps touching the animal because animals cannot speak the way humans can, and articulate our pains or concerns, that a veterinarian might be limited when coming to virtual care, but I think my favorite answer is, you know, to this is that the fact that our veterinary patients can't speak is certainly not new to any of us in this profession, and although there are absolutely situations that do require in-person care and diagnostics, there's a large amount of the conversation that occurs and goes on between the pet owner; describing symptoms and visually, you know, being able to see things via telemedicine and essentially the hugest part of the job as a veterinarian or my job as a veterinarian and any veterinarian is about communication. So it's about talking to the pet owner. It's about interpreting the symptoms and the signs that the pet owner shares with you and ingesting that, and being able to from experience and from training, you know, surface the most common reasons for the things that are happening, and so absolutely there are limitations to virtual care. There are certain situations that mandate, you know, an in-person visit, but akin to human virtual care and telehealth offerings, there's an enormous amount of things that can be managed through a really comprehensive conversation.
06:08 Lorien Clemens
Yeah, and I think too -- I think one of the things that was kind of the a-ha moment for me when I was talking with -- In fact I know we have an episode earlier this year that we'll link to with Doctor Jessica Vogelsang when she's talking just in general about telehealth and how it's, you know, rapid emergence on the scene since COVID hit, and you know, that's greatly changed the way that we are able to interact and frankly it's reduced the amount of interaction that we can have with our veterinarians. How important telehealth can be in terms of determining is a in-person visit even needed, and can we triage some of this stuff before we go and take the time and money? And frankly the space on the schedule of the veterinarian to see a pet? Can you talk a little bit about that about how that idea of triage and how key it is for what's happening right now in veterinary telehealth?
06:58 Sarah Machell
Yeah I love that, and you're absolutely right, and there are two really important levers when it comes to leveraging virtual care, and one of them, I think, is exactly that. It's really helping that pet owner understand the severity of a particular situation, and sometimes it's acknowledging and reinforcing and supporting the pet owner in the decision to take a pet into emergency, and really reinforcing their concerns and the amount of gratitude, you know, having been on the end of consults where it's like, no, this is something that I need to help you get in to be seen, and you know one of the pushbacks that sometimes people say, "well aren't pet owners going to be distraught?" You know, if they have to pay a fee to consult with you, and you turn around and tell them to go into an emergency clinic or something like that. And actually, in almost every situation it's the polar opposite reaction because there's a validation process and a feeling of I am making the right decision, and a lot of times we can support and help that process because as you referenced, even getting in the door at a veterinary clinic is difficult now. So if the pet owner can show up at perhaps an emergency clinic with the validating support that a veterinarian has already counseled me to know that I need to be here. It can be really helpful and on the flip side of that, if there's situations as you said, like not taking that time away from an emergency clinic or even a busy general practices' schedule for a case that doesn't necessarily need to be seen in person that can effectively be managed.
08:38 Lorien Clemens
08:39 Sarah Machell
So I think that's really the essence of the triage piece, it helps to improve patient outcomes, it helps workflows in clinics are substantially improved when that process is used, and it helps to streamline the care for the pet, so it's a win-win on every side. I'm very convinced.
09:00 Lorien Clemens
I'm positive and I'm thinking in general about the things that come into our customer service center, and then just what we get asked about in general. I mean, most people that come to PetHub are coming to PetHub for lost pet prevention and recovery through our ID tag programs in various different communities, and the questions that we get that we're like, well we can't give you veterinary advice. I think actually most of them probably could be handled by telehealth and if you will indulge me, I'd like to chat about that because I think probably -- in fact I know -- the number one thing that people come to us looking for help on in terms of lost pet prevention is all about anxiety, and anxiety in pets, separation anxiety and noise aversion, and all these type of things are tremendous impact on whether or not a pet will, you know, Houdini and run out of the house or try to get out of the backyard because of being scared or anxious or things and so we do get a ton of people researching like how can I help my pet with this anxiety and a lot of times it does come down to a medical thing that needs to be addressed. So can you talk a little bit about that? Like about how telehealth could help you better treat and address your pet's anxiety?
10:11 Sarah Machell
Absolutely and I actually love that particular example, but there was another speaker at the event we were at, and one of the terms that she used was that as we travel down this evolution of virtual veterinary care, we're going to find particular parts of veterinary care delivery that are actually better suited, and more well treated through virtual care than traditional in-practice visits, and I think behavior and anxiety concerns are one of those for sure, because a lot of dealing with anxiety, you know, in dogs and cats, even other species, birds and things like that. A lot of the key components and conversations around that that the veterinarian and veterinary behaviorists are going to have, are talking about the pet's home environment, and so being able to see what the pet sees, and council that pet owner on things that can be done at home that may improve or assist with managing your pet's anxiety is something you're never gonna experience in an in-clinic situation, and furthermore, seeing that pet in their comfortable home environment, you have a completely different read of a lot of behavioral reactions or cues than you do on the pet who has been put in a car, transported to a location that they recognize before they're even out of the door of the car, and they're in a completely different anxiety level and space in-clinic than they are at home. So I think behavioral consultations and behavioral management, you know, and being able to as a veterinarian and a medical professional, taking conversations about coaching on that outside of, you know, there's a lot of fantastic trainers, but there's often, you know, a medication piece that may be required, and that's where being able to speak to a veterinary professional you have that upper sort of level of care that often is integral in helping to manage that pets anxiety, then sort of maximally.
12:14 Lorien Clemens
Right, and I think too, I mean like a lot of times we'll talk to trainers for example where they'll say like, you know, sometimes we get in there and we realize this wasn't really a behavior training issue. This was a medical issue and vice versa, and I think that that being able to have that tele-triage with that veterinarian and say, "you know what this really looks like a training issue." And having that, as you said, validation of I now know what I need to do, rather than this helpless of like I don't even know where I'm supposed to start.
12:43 Sarah Machell
Right, and I think the other huge value proposition piece for a pet owner is speaking to a licensed professional instead of the rabbit holes of Google and Reddit, and misinformation network that sort of is out there. You know, knowing that you're connecting and on Vetster, you know, you're going to have that. All of our veterinarians are licensed professionals. We, you know, ensure that it's very important to us the credibility piece, and so I think that there's that peace of mind when you're talking to a veterinarian to know that they're really legitimate and that advice is credible.
13:26 Lorien Clemens
Yeah I think, and let's talk about this a little bit more, I think too of understanding like what are the expectations that I can have coming into a virtual care situation? What can I expect like I'll probably be able to get help here, or at least guidance on what I should do next, and what are some of those situations where probably should skip virtual care, go straight to the hospital? Can you talk a little bit about that? We wanna set good expectations for people when they're coming into this.
13:55 Sarah Machell
Yeah, well I can share with you that there's sort of the top four consultations that we see on Vetster, and I think that to some degree will help answer your question because you know they're aligning with, you know, these are obviously excellent use cases for virtual veterinary services and certainly, number one is what I like to call the Itchy, Scratchy, smelly cases. So we see a lot of pets that are scratching up dermatological issues, skin issues, ear issues, that sort of thing.
14:24 Lorien Clemens
Which could be anxiety-related.
14:26 Sarah Machell
Which could be anxiety-related.
14:28 Lorien Clemens
14:29 Sarah Machell
And then we also see, you know, our next sort of biggest category of appointments would be tummy troubles, so diarrhea issues, vomiting issues, that sort of thing. And then we see a healthy abundance of concerns around urinary tracts and elimination disorders which also could be not always a medical thing, but sometimes a behavioral or anxiety realated issue. And then of course, we see you know sort of a smattering of behavior consultations and that sort of thing. Wellness questions, you know, like we were talking about prior to. What vaccines does my pet need? And I think those are some primary examples of where meeting with a veterinary professional online is really way better than trying to get ahold of your vets on the phone or by email or anything like that, and you know in terms of what isn't appropriate for virtual veterinary care. I think deep down most of us probably know those things, you know, the actively bleeding patient, the actively seizuring patient, the massive trauma, sometimes toxin injections, although sometimes that guidance of meeting with a veterinarian when you're not sure if your pets have eaten something or not. Sometimes that kind of a triagey one, but I think you know, the obvious sort of traumas and bleedings and...
15:45 Lorien Clemens
Yeah, to me I think that again, another a-ha moment when I was looking at this earlier. I guess it wasn't even this year, it was 2020, although boy that year just kind of went away didn't it? But when this first was all really coming out, was the immediacy of virtual care, as opposed to when I call my veterinarian, particularly now, I will be lucky if I'm not on hold for 20 or 30 minutes, and then they -- I mean my parents actually just had this and their dog is in an acute situation. Needs to be seen situation, but the first available appointment wasn't until the end of the week and they were needing to have care as soon as possible. They didn't think it was an emergency room visit but weren't sure and having that being able to hop on with the veterinarian, on the weekend, to quickly have that 10-minute consult with a veterinarian like this can probably wait unless you see these three things happen, but you know, I would say this is what you should be saying when you're calling your veterinarian about -- this is what the veterinary consult told you. Because you can get that immediate consult.
16:50 Sarah Machell
Exactly, and I think that's exactly sort of what we're talking about earlier and now those are the situations where time and time again, the gratitude that is felt by the pet owner on the other end of that consult, is immeasurable, and you know just like you said, it's that validation. Is it okay to wait or do I need to go now? And one of the really useful tools on our platform specifically, If I may bring it there.
17:16 Lorien Clemens
Of course, we're talking about Vetster, go for it!
17:18 Sarah Machell
Is that, you know, you not only have this opportunity to meet with, you know, the veterinarian live and chat, but following the consultation the veterinarian will also prepare for you an individualized medical record for that consultation, and that stays with your account and your pets account permanently. That's something you can access as a pet owner at any time. You can download it. You can print it. You can email it and share it with your regular veterinarian, and I reference that when it comes to emergency things because that's a really good piece of documentation when the veterinarian says you need to go now, I'm gonna write out what we just did, and you need to take that with you to the ER clinic. You know, that's something that's like no-no doctor Sarah said I need to be here.
18:00 Lorien Clemens
Yeah, no I think that is absolutely critical, and the peace of mind that comes with like no okay I'm not imagining things I'm not being...
18:07 Sarah Machell
18:08 Lorien Clemens
I'm not being too worried myself. I'm not having -- this is not just anxiety-driven on my own. This is legit. I think that validation is huge. So speaking of Vetster, I would love it if you could talk a little bit, but we're going to get to the offer that you guys are giving our listeners, which is a great offer, but I would like, what are they gonna experience when they first come on so that they know? Oh okay, cool. How easy is it?
18:29 Sarah Machell
Love that you asked the question. Our platform is profoundly user-friendly. Even for folks who may not feel that they're very technically savvy. The feedback that we get all the time is how easy it is to use. It's much like creating an account on social media. You visit the site, you add your pertinent details, and you create your account. The entire process of setting up an account should take you less than five minutes, and once you've set it up, then you can add your pets. You can personalize it. You can add photographs of your pets, and then you can browse our marketplace for veterinarians who are available at the date and time that you're looking for and all of those other search criteria that we spoke about before, and you know, you can find veterinarians who specialize in your breed of dog or cat and that sort of thing, and the actual scheduling process is literally just a couple of clicks away, and then you can, to enrich that opportunity with the veterinarian, you can also very easily upload images of an area of concern if you have them on your pet. If you have previous medical records from your regular veterinarian, you can upload those for the veterinarian to have access to, and they remain part of your account, and then you can also receive, depending on where you're located and the veterinarian is licensed, even within our app, there is the opportunity at the veterinarian discretion and regulatory permitting for veterinarians to provide prescriptions. So seamlessly right in within the app, and they can be fulfilled and shipped to your home. So all in one place.
20:14 Lorien Clemens
It's really cool and I think the only other things that I really like about Vetster as opposed to several of the other opportunities out there, 'cause let's be honest, there's a lot of telehealth out there and a lot of them are really good. I mean the quality of care that you get from a lot of these telehealth virtual services are great. It's really great. There are different flavors and so you have to figure out, you know, what really appeals to you and what meets your need. I think one of the things that's cool about Vester, you mentioned this before, this marketplace thing. What does that mean? You know as a consumer I'm like what does that mean? Well, here's the thing. If you go on Vetster and then you find a licensed veterinarian -- or you also do veterinary nurses as well, right?
20:50 Sarah Machell
Yeah, yeah we do.
20:51 Lorien Clemens
Yeah, so it's very similar to if you go to a nurse practitioner in the medical -- human medical place. So anyway, so you find your veterinary practitioner that you want to interact with and you really, really like them. You can continue to go to them, and continue to have a long term relationship with them on that virtual level as opposed to some of the others that are out there that basically you're in a little wheel that basically you get the next available person that's available, and so you may not always get the consult with the same person. If you're somebody that continuative care and building that relationship with that practitioner is really important to you, I think that that Vetster is one that you should really, really look at and consider.
21:28 Sarah Machell
21:29 Lorien Clemens
You wanna add to that at all?
21:30 Sarah Machell
All I would say is that you know, as a veterinarian and my colleagues were alike, we really appreciate that relationship-building piece too, and one of the really unique parts or aspects to our marketplace platform is that we're really empowering our veterinarians who are our partners in this process to grow and operate their own virtual practice using our platform. And so it speaks exactly to what you're saying there is that, you know, we want you to meet your heart-vat on our platform, and I firmly believe, as a veterinarian, that as we move forward through the evolution of veterinary care in general, we're gonna see pet owners probably have a hybrid of care providers long term, it's no longer gonna be just, you know, I just have my vet who's in the clinic that's around the corner, but I have my virtual vet, and I have my primary needs in-person vet and it's going to be a care team, not just, you know, an individual transactional type of feeling.
22:35 Lorien Clemens
Yeah 100%. I think there's already some of that in the human space too. I mean we have this thing that we get through our insurance that's all virtual and as a mom of a toddler, I certainly call them, and so yeah, all right, well so great. So I know we've asked people to hang out so that they can learn about this great offer. Will you share with this really terrific opportunity that you're giving to our listeners is?
22:56 Sarah Machell
Yeah, of course. So we're super excited to share with your listeners a promotion code for their first appointment. So that they can try Vetster and receive a 30% discount off the consultation fee with the doctor. We do have a mobile app, a really lovely mobile app, so if your listeners can visit the App Store or Google Play and download the app, then they can actually load this promo code and bank it for when they need it and the promo code is Petlovergeek30, and this will as I said allow them to receive 30% off of their first consultation.
23:31 Lorien Clemens
To just give them a kind of an idea, what's the cost range that they're likely to see? Now it's different for each vet.
23:36 Sarah Machell
Yeah, it's different for each vet and by state it varies a little bit. On average, the consultation with a doctor, which is a 30-minute consultation, it runs around $70.00 US So a little bit less than sort of what an in-person consultation would be in a clinic, but for the most part, I might be biased, a much more comfortable experience.
23:57 Lorien Clemens
Well, and 30 minutes too is big, because I go into my vet and I think that they're like just going in the door. I walk in the door. I've just spent $84 and I might get 5 minutes with the vet. Maybe 10. You know she's seeing a lot of people during that hour.
24:12 Sarah Machell
You know that is one thing that we also get a lot of feedback on that it's great. Both the veterinarians and the pet owners really appreciate this sort of like one on one time. A lot less distractions. You know, in the clinic that pet is trying to get away or hiding under the table, or we're embarrassed 'cause they peed on the floor or our human children are with us and we can't concentrate as well. And for both the veterinarian and the pet owner, it tends to be a lot more dedicated time just like our time right now.
24:38 Lorien Clemens
Yeah, one thing before we wrap this up, you did mention the app, but tell us where they can find you? Where they can find Vetster?
24:44 Sarah Machell
So it's VETSTER.com. So VETSTER.com.
24:49 Lorien Clemens
Perfect and they are also on the app stores on both for Apple and Google Play. So make sure you check them out. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast today Sarah! really appreciate it.
24:58 Sarah Machell
24:58 Lorien Clemens
I wish we had more time. You know what, we'll probably meet with you again I'm sure to talk about something else, just cause we like to bring people back. Loved it today. Looking forward to getting to know you more as PetHub and Vester continue to work together. And for those of you who are listening, do not forget you can go right now and get yourself a Vester account and bank this code so you can use it later. Pet lover geek, that's PETLOVERGEEK30, and that's gonna get you 30% off your first visit with Vetster. Now if you are interested in learning more, you make sure you head over to their website Vetster.com or you can check them out on any of your favorite social media platforms, they're all over the place there, and like always thank you so much for tuning in today. I'm Lorien Clemens and this has been Pet Lover Geek powered by PetHub.