Independent Vetcare (IVC) has now officially unveiled 'Online Vets', its veterinary consultation service for pet owners, claiming to offer them a saving of nearly £100 a year on veterinary bills.

A 15-minute consultation with Online Vets on the IVC-owned www.myfamilypet.co.uk website costs £16, compared to the three other players in this marketplace: PawsquadVet AI and Firstvet, which all charge £20.

The other significant difference is that Online Vets is backed by IVC's extensive network of 800+ bricks and mortar practices, so they have somewhere to refer cases that need treatment and they undertake to deduct the online consultation fee from the final bill if that happens. 

Douglas Veitch MRCVS, Head of Online Vets (the affable-looking chap pictured right) said: "In human healthcare, an online doctor can prescribe medication to their patients. However under the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) legislation, vets cannot do that. This impacts the wallets of our clients, as it will often mean they pay twice; once for the online consultation and then for the subsequent consultation in practice. That’s why we have launched our Online Vets service as the digital vet team can refer into one of our 800+ practices and ensure the initial online fee is deducted from the bill."

That sounds like a bit of a pop at the RCVS being responsible for legislation that impacts clients' wallets, so it might be worth reflecting whether the GMC would allow doctors to prescribe medication online if their patients were all deaf, mute and had a mental age of less than one, which I assume is the intellectual capacity of the average dog.

That's by the by. It is this ability to offset Online Vets' consultation fee against any treatment needed offline that forms the basis of IVC's claim to save pet owners nearly £100 per annum on veterinary bills.

Of the other online service providers, only one (Vet AI) undertakes to refund the fee if offline treatment is then required. Online Vets says pets typically need 5 consultations per annum, and if they all need a subsequent consultation (and presuming none use Vet AI), £20 x 5 would therefore be down the drain, or, as the French would say, hors de la fenêtre. 

I think that claim is a bit punchy myself. It would be interesting to see the research that shows pets need 5 consultations per annum. My dog rarely sees the vet more than once in a year. And even if it did, I'll bet at least a couple of those consultations could be handled online.

But really, isn't this a bit of a red herring? The truth is that all these services are still in their infancy, and online consultations still make up only a tiny fraction of the overall number of veterinary interactions. So really, whether you'll actually save a few quid using Online Vets vs one of the others is probably not the point.

The really big savings for pet owners will surely come when bricks and mortar veterinary practices, IVC included, offer online consultations between clients and their normal vet, who can already prescribe medications remotely if the animal has been seen recently enough. That'll save me a lot more than £20 a visit.

In the meantime, if I was using one of these services to consult about my dog (and I might), the bigger deal for me would be to have the reassurance of knowing the advice was backed by a bricks and mortar practice, which is why I find it curious that the only mention of IVC (and all its resources) on the www.myfamilypet.co.uk website is, er, in the cookie policy.


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