We all know how teleradiology has impacted the care of human patients for the past 15 years or so and driven the field of telemedicine to the advanced state it is now, but what about our animal friends who get sick and need care when they live out in rural areas?
Not surprisingly (or maybe for some it is) telemedicine is a rapidly growing part of veterinary medicine, and as with human medicine, radiology is leading the way.
The 17th International Veterinary Radiology Association Meeting was recently held in Fremantle, Australia and I had the great pleasure of being able to attend and speak. The issues facing veterinary radiologists are quite similar to those of human radiologists concerning teleradiology, but there are some differences as well.
The similarities – the need for good image quality, the use of all imaging modalities from x-rays to CT to MRI to ultrasound and nuclear medicine, the need to reduce dose to both radiologists and patients, and the need to acquire, transmit, store and interpret large datasets of images.
What’s different? Well the diversity of patient types is the most obvious thing – mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and so on. I bet you never thought of taking an x-ray of an anteater!
A big problem is that, unlike Mr. Ed, animals can’t talk and thus cannot tell you where exactly it hurts. The result is that imaging often needs to be “from nose to tail”. Now think of a horse or giraffe! That’s a lot of images! In human teleradiology we send large datasets all the time, but nothing like this. There is currently a lot of research in this field on how to deal with all these images in general, and specifically in the teleradiology environment.
Another challenge in veterinary radiology is the same as in humans, but maybe even more of an issue – the shortage of radiologists and in particular sub-specialty radiologists. It goes beyond radiology however to general vets and those in other clinical specialties. What to do? Same as in human medicine – use telemedicine and hire service providers! There are companies like VETCT and IDEXX that provide veterinary telemedicine solutions around the world.
What are some additional positives? Fewer barriers with respect to reimbursement (people often are willing to pay more for pet care than their own care!), licensure, practicing across borders (within and outside of countries), HIPAA and patient consent! Maybe human medicine has a few lessons to learn from animals!