Three years ago, as Dr. Lori Teller was joining the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) board of directors, she began to realize the potential for and significance of telehealth in veterinary medicine.
“I saw the handwriting on the wall,” Teller said. “I suggested to the AVMA board that this was really a hot area and was something we should be looking at. Shortly after that discussion, a committee was tasked within the AVMA, really a working group, to take a look at telemedicine and put something together. I was the board liaison to that group.”
That group—which ended up including more than 50 volunteers, veterinarians, legal and insurance representatives, and stakeholders—would go on to formulate the AVMA policy on telemedicine, which was adopted in July 2017.
“Telemedicine, to me, means ways of improving client communication, patient care—better compliance, better building of the human-animal bond. Sometimes, it’s just offering the reassurance that a pet is going to be OK or letting the client know that what they’re seeing is an emergency that needs to be addressed now,” Teller said. “Sometimes, it’s just knowing what to expect before you take the next step.”
Teller is bringing her experience and expertise to the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVM) Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH) as its first faculty member in telehealth in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences (VSCS).
A Houston native and CVM alumna, Teller joins the CVM following almost three decades of experience in private practice in Houston. It was the same practice at which she began shadowing when she was 12 years old.
“When I was 6, I knew I wanted to be a veterinarian. By the time I turned 12 and still wanted to be a DVM, my dad said, ‘You need to find out what a veterinarian really does,’ so my mom drove me down to our family veterinarian’s clinic where I worked for the next 30 years,” Teller said.
There, the father-son team who owned the clinic, Irwin and Mike Mark (both Aggie alumni), told Teller and her mother that while she couldn’t work for them, she could “hang out” for the summer to get a better understanding of the field.
“I did that every summer until I turned 16 and was old enough to get paid,” Teller said. “At that point, I started after school, weekends, vacations, and returned fulltime (under different owners) after I graduated from Texas A&M.”
As a veterinarian, Teller has been deeply involved in state and national level organized veterinary medicine, working with the AVMA, Texas Veterinary Medical Association (TVMA), American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), and American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB) on defining telehealth policy, as well as with the American Telemedicine Association’s (ATA) Academic Medical Committee, the defining organization that seeks to improve telemedicine in human healthcare.
Because of this, she is well-versed in the challenges that come with creating a new telemedicine service for the VMTH. These include workflow considerations and keeping pace with the rapidly advancing communications technologies. This also can include getting buy-in from a base of veterinarians who prefer a more traditional method of seeing clients.
“Some veterinarians are gung ho and think telemedicine is amazing. Other people are resistant to change of any sort; that’s harder for them to grasp,” Teller said. “Shelter vets are finding this very useful; if they’ve established a VCPR (veterinary-client-patient relationship) they can then do so much more with a veterinarian who is offsite.”
However, the educational opportunities involved with introducing telemedicine to fourth-year veterinary students, who can then help incorporate the new technology into the practices they will join, and the benefits to the clients, in terms of convenience in being able to consult with a veterinarian from home before scheduling an appointment at the Small Animal Hospital, will far outweigh those challenges.
“Telemedicine is going to be a huge part of where their profession goes. It’s becoming more and more apparent,” Teller said. “I’ve stayed on top of it, met some of the big stakeholders, some of the movers and shakers, the innovators. I think that telehealth provides major opportunities for our profession.”