Bond Vet customers
This schedule changed dramatically in March, after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the state home order in response to the rapid spread of the coronavirus. Bond Vet quickly implemented a system using Google’s video technology to delivered 20-minute video consultations for $ 50, limiting clinic visits to emergencies and urgent care.
Mo Punjani, one of the three co-founders of Bond Vet, said that telehealth appointments are now increasing by more than 200% per month and that about half are resolved with the prescription of food or medicine. Between 80% and 90% of the spaces available on the site fill up every day, he said.
“Our goal with telehealth in the coming months and months is to comfort pets and their parents without leaving their homes,” said Punjani, 31, in an interview. “We consider it our responsibility to limit traffic throughout the city.”
Just as the demands of social distancing have led to an explosion of remote health services for humans, veterinarians have seen a similar change in their business. Elective procedures were delayed and clinics quickly set up services to support clients and help pet owners determine – for example – whether their cat has fleas and can be diagnosed by video, or can have a more serious skin disorder that requires immediate medical help.
The pet insurer Pawlicy Advisor has Covid-19 Page which includes telehealth best practices and lists providers with names like Anipanion, VetNOW, TeleTails and TeleVet. Veterinarians are licensed by the state, so to provide telehealth services to an animal owner in New York or Illinois, a platform must have practitioners licensed to work in these locations.
“The patient cannot communicate”
Shane Kelly is the CEO of Destination Pet, a national network of pet care services. He compares veterinarians to pediatricians, who rely heavily on in-person consultations.
“The patient cannot communicate, cannot speak, which places some limitations on primary care with telehealth,” said Kelly. Still, he says that the current pandemic is highlighting the importance of remote health and that “telehealth is definitely an increasing part of the business all around.”
At Bond Vet, the plan is to continue to develop its physical and digital operations. The company opened its second clinic in December on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, followed by its third clinic in the Upper West Side last month during the pandemic. A fourth clinic in the Chelsea neighborhood on the West Side is expected to open this summer. Punjani said the company plans to open 10 to 20 more clinics in the next few years, including outside of New York in cities like Boston, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
For animals requiring emergency services, Bond Vet has a system in place to limit human contact. Pet owners come to an outside drop-off location, where they meet employees in full personal protective equipment. After the initial consultation, a veterinarian contacts the family to discuss the situation, the animal’s history and the next steps. Pets are tested for Covid-19 if they show symptoms of the virus.
“The feedback we have received is that clients are openly open to this type of appointment, which preserves the safety of everyone involved,” said Punjani, who previously worked in private equity and investment banking. He started the business in 2018 with Dr Zay Satchu, a veterinarian who is also his wife, and Lukas Keindl, product manager at Bond Vet.
As business in the clinics dropped after the first home stay orders were placed, Punjani said traffic was starting to pick up. Rather than replacing in-person services, he sees the telehealth option as a way to prevent large numbers of clients from making unnecessary trips to the vet.
“What we see today as the city begins to unblock is a return to pre-Covid levels,” said Punjani. “We are working with governing bodies to know when to resume elective procedures and elective wellness appointments.”
WATCH: Telehealth “can save lives” during the health crisis