Stephanie Schwartz

Ian Voelzel, Westlake Animal Hospital's medical director, demonstrates veterinary telemedicine for the author's dog, Mateo. (Stephanie Schwartz)

It all started with an idea about Carfax reports, but for horses.

Steven Carter and Price Fallin had a friend who spent a lot of money on a high-performance horse, and it turned out that before the sale, the seller had medicated the horse to hide some problems. The group thought it would be good to have health records before a horse purchase—and in 2015, they founded Horse Facts.


Carter said that as part of this business, he and Fallin spent a lot of time in equine veterinary practices. There they observed that many people were traveling great distances, even across several states, to take their horse to the vet. The two partners then created an equine telemedicine product. And word spread.

"Through pure luck, some small animal vets found my phone number," said Carter, "and they would call, and literally every call they would say, 'Are these the horse guys?'"

Carter and Fallin renamed their business TeleVet in 2016, and they went on to serve mostly small-animal vets, along with a few large-animal vets and one vet that does telemedicine for 50,000 pigs.

In January, about 100 veterinary practices used TeleVet. As the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., that number rose quickly to over 1,000 practices. The company recently announced it is offering veterinary practices a free month of service during the pandemic.

TeleVet's system allows veterinarians to interact with animal owners through video, texts and phone calls. States set guidelines for veterinary telemedicine, and Texas requires that a veterinarian have an established relationship with an animal before treating it, which means having previously examined that pet in person.

Carter said that an increase in veterinary telemedicine was poised to happen, even before the pandemic.

"I think the veterinary practices as a whole knew that telemedicine was something on the radar," he said, "but they often thought they would put it off for a year or two."

Due to the rapid increase in demand, TeleVet is accelerating planned expansions to its platform. To bring in the necessary resources, the startup is raising more funding, after closing a $2 million seed round in January.

Ian Voelzel, veterinarian and medical director of Westlake Animal Hospital, said that he had been considering telemedicine before the coronavirus pandemic, but not all vets at the clinic were on board. Now the practice is using both TeleVet and curbside service to continue to treat its patients.

It is working well, allowing the staff to feel safe about coming to the practice for procedures that must be done in-house, such as a recent surgery on a cat's broken leg. Which is not to say that there are no challenges to veterinary telemedicine.

"Our patients don't talk," Voelzel said. "We are trying to get the information through the owner—a third party, basically."

He expects telemedicine to be a part of the clinic's practice even when social distancing requirements have relaxed. Voelzel said the platform is great for checkups after an operation, as well as a triage to determine whether an animal needs to be seen in the clinic.

There is a limit, however. Voelzel said that manipulating the limb of an injured animal, for example, can produce a dangerous reaction. Dogs with ear infections can also be very protective. There is an art, and sometimes the involvement of sedatives, to being able to examine an animal.

"Some things we can't train the owner to do," he said.

(Bob Daemmrich)

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