“Yeh kuch nahi khata hai, bas din bhar sota rehta hai [it doesn’t eat anything, just sleeps all day],” says Shaju Mallakal, as he tries in vain to offer some dried grass mixed with corn husk to his cattle. “Pichle teen dino se kuch alag sa swabhav dekh raha hoon [he has been acting strange since the last three days],” he adds, as he waits for advice from the veterinarian on the other side of the video consultation.
Mallakal is one of many farmers in his native village in Kerala who has been initiated into the world of online doctor consultations amid COVID-19-induced lockdowns in India. But unlike many, he has been harnessing the power of digital technology to give the best care to the animals in his modest dairy farm.
In fact, according to veterinary doctors on Practo, 40% of these online consultations are emerging from rural pockets of the country with little to no access to medical clinics or government dispensaries that can take care of the healthcare needs of one of the most critical contributors to the rural economy: livestock.
“COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of telehealth services in India, especially in tier 2 and tier 3 cities,” says Dr Madeena Begum, BVSc & AH, MVSC – Surgery/Radiology, veterinary surgeon and physician, who now regularly consults with pet owners on Practo, adding, “With increased penetration of mobile phones and widespread use of internet, online consultations have filled the gaps where access to quality care was inadequate in these places, especially for veterinary services.”
Consulting a veterinary expert online – anytime, anywhere
Post the launch of online consultations with veterinary doctors on Practo in February 2021, many veterinarians are embracing telemedicine and incorporating it into their practice. In fact, online consultations soared during the second wave of the pandemic, touching 500 transactions a month at its peak. What is more, user experience has been exceptional, attested by average CSAT scores of 97% since its launch. According to Dr Begum, this is because the COVID-19 pandemic made shortage of veterinary doctors even worse with many who were working in multinational hospitals left with no place to practice during the outbreak.
“During this time, Practo launched this platform to enable doctors like me to connect with people across the country, some of whom don’t have access to veterinary services even in normal circumstances,” says Dr Begum, who had conducted nearly 3,500 online consultations in 3 months, adding, “Even though some hospitals have their own digital setups, these are mainly intended to remain in touch with people who have visited the facility in the past, and not to facilitate online consultations.”
In addition to providing a platform to enable veterinary care services in the absence of alternatives, what is driving the popularity of online consultations even as in-person visits become available again is the sheer convenience and benefits it offers, not just to pet owners, but also to veterinary professionals.
The merits of online consultations with veterinary doctors on Practo
Having 24/7 access to veterinary professionals in the comfort of one’s home is a boon for many, especially pet owners for whom travelling may be difficult if they have an older pet or one with acute health problems. What is more, instead of spiralling over a health problem or relying on secondary information from random sources, they can get quick expert advice on their pet’s health or behaviour in a matter of seconds via online consultations.
“Clinical science is different from theory that one can glean from social media,” says Dr Patnala Jyosna Priya Chandarlapati, BVSc & AH, PGDAW, veterinary physician and practitioner, adding, “Online forums dedicated to pets may be good avenues for pet owners to remain in touch with each other, but not to discuss healthcare matters. Moreover, misinformation often causes waves of panic, which can be easily avoided by consulting a medically licensed and certified veterinarian online.”
Although Dr Chandarlapati has been practicing as a veterinary doctor in Hyderabad since 2014, the learnings that she has culled over the last 9 months providing online consultations on Practo has been remarkable.
“My understanding from consulting patients across the country has been that each state in India has a different need for veterinary services,” she says, adding, “Some of the cases that come to me have also been quite unique, which is important to my understanding of different issues. Just last week I spoke to someone whose 19-year-old pet bird had developed a cataract. I also routinely get consulted for advice and care of reptiles, which is not very common in cities.”
Telemedicine – A smarter approach to pet care
Telemedicine, thus, has been a much-needed inclusion to complement existing efforts in veterinary medicine. Even if a virtual setup may suffice in many cases – especially treating common issues like dehydration with simple home remedies – should a pet’s needs go beyond what can be accomplished remotely, direct consultation can still be facilitated.
“Oftentimes, pet owners need advice and reassurance about certain things,” says Dr Begum, adding, “A lot of the queries in cities are coming from new owners on how to take care of an animal, or chart a diet plan for them. In cases when something is not clear through an onscreen interaction, I refer them for a direct consultation.”
Just as medical appointments for people have moved into the virtual realm, people’s approach towards the healthcare needs of their pets have also undergone a transformation. By going beyond the scope of what was followed, people are challenging old patterns of thinking and increasingly embrace telehealth solutions for pets’ healthcare needs.