Given the current COVID-19 pandemic, pet telemedicine services seem fairly pertinent at this juncture — especially with the recent spike in cases worldwide due to emerging mutated variants. Thus, it becomes all the more necessary now for both humans and pets alike to stay home as much as possible to minimise the risks of potential exposure to this more contagious variant.
Consequently, there has been a corresponding increased demand for pet telemedicine services in Singapore. Similar to how human telemedicine works, pet telemedicine services employ the use of digital and telecommunications technology to allow pet owners access to licensed vets remotely via text/phone/video call. During these online consultations, vets can likewise perform diagnosis and prescribe medications for your pet’s condition as deemed fit.
Although the majority of Singaporeans still prefer in-person consultations over online consultations, opting for telemedicine as an alternative is quickly becoming a norm. This is where ZumVet comes into the picture.
ZumVet co-founder, Ms Athena Lee (left) with her other co-founder, Dr Grace Su (right)
We recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Athena Lee, one of the co-founders of ZumVet, a pet telemedicine app that has taken Singapore by storm.
Having spent most of her life between the U.S. and Hong Kong, Athena Lee’s took a surprising turn when a business opportunity with the human telemedicine healthcare platform, Dr. Anywhere, brought her over to the sunny island of Singapore.
At that time, they were looking for someone to lead their business development ventures and Athena fit the role perfectly given her finance background. During her tenure, she had also risen to the ranks of becoming the CEO of Dr. Anywhere. A remarkable feat no doubt, but deep down, Athena always had a penchant for technology and its start-up scene elsewhere.
Flash forward a couple of years, Athena leveraged on her wealth of experience and knowledge in the telemedicine scene to embark on her new passion project: ZumVet. However, more importantly, she asserts that her main inspiration and motivation for ZumVet stems from her being a pet owner (or pawrent) herself. She experienced “a lot of trouble juggling between being a pet owner and being a busy professional”.
Struggling to find efficient veterinary adhoc services after having lived here for two years, Athena endeavoured to ‘be the change she wanted to see’. Determined to facilitate ready and available access to vets for pet owners (almost) anytime, Athena wanted to create a reliable pet telemedicine platform that reimagined what the pet healthcare regulations in Singapore should be.
Personally, Athena herself owns three gorgeous cattos: Siam, Bodhi and Major Tom. Unfortunately, Siam was left undiagnosed with a UTI (urinary tract infection) for one year.
She elaborates, “It had gone on for one year [because] I just didn’t know what signs to look out for. There was nothing online that I could find that would help me lead to that direction of a UTI diagnosis.”
“It’s either you go to a vet, or you google,” she continues. “But what I’m finding is that google or anything that is online may not be trustworthy and may not be specific to your pet’s needs.”
Ultimately, this lack of accessible and reliable online resources regarding pet health information sparked Athena’s interest to create her own pet telemedicine platform.
A major component of pet telemedicine that ZumVet aims to incorporate is convenience.
Athena explains, “What we had realised from a veterinary standpoint is that [pet owners] are often at the mercy of whenever a clinic is open and whenever [vets are] free.”
She leads on to discuss the main struggles associated with traditional veterinary workflows. Firstly, most pet owners need to research, evaluate and shortlist vets before finding one they trust.
Secondly, making an appointment is also difficult because vets are often busy and unavailable on short notice. This requires pet owners to book appointments at least a few days in advance — which clearly isn’t feasible for emergency situations.
Thirdly, there are insufficient vets and clinics in Singapore. Overall, engaging with a vet through physical consultations is time-consuming and very stressful, for both pets and owners alike.
Fourthly, vet healthcare in Southeast Asia is still a largely fragmented industry. Pet medical records are not shared across a consolidated database between clinics. Every clinic has its own individual management system and client base that are not cross-transferable. This leads to very inefficient retention of medical information and operations on both the pet owners’ and clinics’ end respectively.
As a result, all of these aforementioned struggles combined can escalate an initially treatable health issue into a critical health crisis. Pet owners end up biding their time and ‘waiting out’ their pets’ symptoms to determine if they’re really severe or significant enough to warrant a trip to the vet.
Source: Thewonderalice on Unsplash
Furthermore, if pet owners do end up sending their pets in for a consultation, they don’t realise how expensive pet medical bills actually amount to. Regrettably, a rise in pet ownership corresponds with a rise in pet abandonment cases throughout the pandemic so far.
On the topic of increased pet ownership, Athena also comments, “[While] pet ownership is increasing exponentially in a lot of countries, the infrastructure surrounding vet care hasn’t been able to catch up.”
This in turn has led to a lot of vet clinics becoming “congested and overwhelmed” due to their inability to handle the huge influx in cases.
All of these inadequacies in pet healthcare are further highlighted in contrast to human healthcare. When it comes to the latter, there are many options available ranging from public to private to insurance. Conversely, there isn’t an equitable distribution of such resources present within the pet healthcare industry.
Athena (first row; right) and her ZumVet team
Think of ZumVet as a touchpoint. The aim is to make certified veterinary care affordable and accessible for pet owners either through a video consult or house call. Pet owners no longer have to allocate time out of their schedule and spend money on transporting their pets to and fro to vet clinics just for a consultation. All this can be done from the comfort of your home!
Online consultations are also a great way to perform preliminary evaluation or triage emergencies. These evaluative procedures help to determine the severity of a pet’s condition and whether it warrants a trip to the clinic or emergency room.
That said, an online consultation can never fully replace the efficacy of a physical consultation. In fact, a pet will oftentimes be referred to a clinic by the ZumVet’s team if necessary. Medical issues such as ingestion of foreign objects (i.e. big seeds, toys, etc.), sudden vomiting, seizures and so on are a few examples of symptoms that require immediate physical attention.
During the consultation, the vets may advise a treatment plan with an e-prescription order which gets sent to a dispensary (typically a partner clinic) to be fulfilled. After confirming payment and delivery arrangements, the medication will be delivered to pet owners within three hours of submission.
After each consult, pet owners are encouraged to upload their pet medical records onto ZumVet’s database by filling up a form. This provides easy and convenient access to your pet’s health history for future reference. You’ll never have to worry about relying solely on your memory to recall and regurgitate it all to the vet again!
Additionally, ZumVet’s newest concierge service (currently in beta) seeks to provide pet owners with customised and bespoke recommendations for their pets’ needs.
For example, if your pet is suffering from a bout of itchy skin, ZumVet will send recommendations of treats and snacks that are appropriate for the condition.
Presently, pet healthcare is deeply entrenched in a traditional and institutionalised approach from both provider’s and patient’s perspectives. The infrastructure surrounding pet healthcare remains rigid and slow to change.
The main contributing factor to this problem, as Athena points out, is the lack of educational outreach being carried out at the moment. A lot of pet owners remain largely uninformed and unaware regarding nuances in their pet’s conditions and behavioural patterns.
In response, ZumVet regularly hosts talks and workshops through their social media (@zumvet) to openly discuss important pet topics and issues with pet owners. It’s an excellent way to gain new insights about taking better care of your pet, no matter if you’re a new or seasoned pawrent.
Lastly, if it isn’t already evident, ZumVet is a mission-driven team at heart — possessing a strong desire to contribute back to the pet community as well as a soft spot for hospice and palliative care for older cats.
Athena explains, “Some of the organisations that we do work a lot with are SPCA and SOSD. Our vet actually works most of the time at SPCA now and then we give our intern a day off each week to volunteer at SPCA. So it’s something that we’re very focused on. We really do want to be mission-driven and contribute back to the community.”
“And we do a lot of campaigns with these groups as well. We ran a campaign on SOSD [back in March] where we donated $5 for every new user on our platform to [SOSD’s] medical services.”
At its core, a genuine and deep love for animals and their health is what motivates the ZumVet team. Everything else related to the ‘humanity’ perspective is secondary. So if you resonate with their values, vision and are in need of some affordable yet reliable vet care, head to their website to get your online consultation started today!