Animal HealthLink is improving the lives of veterinary professionals and the patients they serve by providing practical and safe teletriage solutions for a modern and sustainable veterinary industry.
Tell us about yourself?
I have been a Registered Veterinary Technologist (RVT) for the past 15 years. Most of my work has been in emergency medicine, but I have also been a College Instructor in Animal Health departments and various hospital management positions as well.
I got into veterinary medicine when my dog was hit by a car. I rushed him to the ER, and I was sobbing in a room, waiting for an update. When the veterinarian entered the room, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “He’s going to be okay.” I knew at that moment that I wanted to make people and pets feel better too. During my dog’s hospitalization, I met many RVTs who were caring for him, and I inquired about their job duties and where they went to school. It sounded perfect, and there was one week left to apply, so I got everything together and got my application in just under the wire. On my first day of school, we were introduced to our instructors. To my surprise, one of my instructors was the veterinarian who had saved my dog. The day he saved him was one of his last shifts before he went on to become a college instructor. Talk about stars aligning!
If you could go back in time a year or two, what piece of advice would you give yourself?
Be kind to yourself. Entrepreneurship is a scary, lonely, overwhelming adventure, and you’re going to make some mistakes along the way. As long as you’re still having fun, keep on truckin’!
What problem does your business solve?
Animal HealthLink addresses the current staffing shortage crisis in veterinary medicine. Simply put, there are not enough veterinary staff to support patient demand, and they are becoming overwhelmed and burned out.
Imagine being a veterinarian who has just worked a 13-hour day with no breaks to ensure you can see as many patients as possible. Then you have to go home with the on-call phone in case of an emergency. You are awoken throughout the night by phone calls, and you have to get up in the morning and start the vicious cycle all over again.
When a clinic subscribes to Animal HealthLink, instead of the calls going directly to the on-call vet, they go to our call centre first, where a Registered Veterinary Technologist will answer the call. The patient is assessed using Animal HealthLink’s proprietary triage algorithms, as well as pictures and video. If it is an emergency situation, the on-call veterinarian will be dispatched, and all of the logistics will be taken care of by Animal HealthLink. However, 75 per cent of the time, the calls are not emergencies. We can give the owner some home care advice and parameters to monitor, and the veterinary clinic can follow up the next business day. This way, the veterinarian gets more rest, and the patients are still cared for while they sleep. Healthy Vets mean healthy pets!
Our service also covers animal ER hospitals that are also experiencing lobbies full of patients. Animal HealthLink is an option on the hospital’s phone tree (“press one if your pet is experiencing symptoms”). We can send critical patients directly into the ER, and stable patients can wait at home from our virtual queue. If you’ve ever had to wait in an ER yourself, you know how much nicer it would be to wait in the comfort of your own home!
What is the inspiration behind your business?
My inspiration for the business came when I was facing the possibility of having to leave veterinary medicine myself. I had just had my third baby and couldn’t afford daycare for all three. I also worked emergency medicine, so 12-hour and overnight shifts were not ideal for my growing family.
It broke my heart to think about leaving the industry, making me curious about why veterinary professionals leave the industry. I learned that the number one reason that veterinarians leave is because of the on-call aspect of the job, and the number one reason that RVTs leave is that they have young families or because their bodies are tired from lifting 100-pound Rottweilers and getting kicked by cows.
At the same time, I had been trying to figure out what other things I could do outside of emergency medicine and started thinking about my strengths, one of which is triage – a skill that I am very passionate about as well. That’s when the lightbulb went off in my head. RVTs could stay home with their young families and rest their bodies, working remotely from home to triage cases for on-call veterinarians and only wake them for the truly emergent cases.
Things have continued to snowball since then, and we now have over 100 RVTs working in our call centre, with clinics subscribing to our service from all over Canada and the U.S.A.
When surveying our staff, we found out that 88 per cent of them were going to, or had already, left the veterinary industry before working for Animal HealthLink, and we are so proud that we were able to keep these amazing individuals practicing veterinary medicine.
What is your magic sauce?
There is currently no standardization when it comes to triage in veterinary medicine. We have created over 200 triage algorithms that we use as a decision support tool to standardize how patients are triaged. We are proud to report that using our algorithms, we have a 99.99 per cent safety margin.
What is the plan for the next 5 years? What do you want to achieve?
Our vision is to become the standard of care for veterinary triage. We would love to have our triage methods taught in veterinary schools. We also have plans to make a move outside of North America.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
Meeting regulations across all provinces and states has been challenging, with telehealth regulations being non-existent or very new to some associations, but we are committed to regulatory compliance. We have learned a lot and met with many different associations, making huge strides in recognizing teletriage as a safe and effective part of the solution to the current veterinary shortage.
How can people get involved?
You can call us at 1-833-PETS-811 or visit our website at www.animalhealthlink.ca