That schedule changed dramatically in March, after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the state's stay-at-home order in response to the rapidly spreading coronavirus. Bond Vet quickly set up a system using Google's video technology to book 20-minute video consultations for $50, limiting clinic visits to emergencies and urgent care.
Mo Punjani, one of Bond Vet's three co-founders, said that telehealth appointments are now increasing over 200% a month and that about half are resolved with the prescription of food or medicine. Between 80% and 90% of available slots on the site fill up every day, he said.
"Our goal with telehealth over the next few months and the last few months is to give comfort to pets and pet parents without them needing to leave their homes," said Punjani, 31, in an interview. "We see it as our responsibility to limit traffic throughout the city."
Just as social-distancing requirements have led to an explosion in remote health services for humans, veterinarians have seen a similar shift in their business. Elective procedures have been delayed and clinics have rapidly spun up services to support customers and help pet owners determine — for instance — if their cat has fleas and can be diagnosed by video, or might have a more serious skin disorder that calls for immediate medical help.
Pet insurer Pawlicy Advisor set up a Covid-19 page that includes telehealth best practices and lists providers with names like Anipanion, VetNOW, TeleTails and TeleVet. Veterinarians are licensed by state, so to provide telehealth services to a pet owner in New York or Illinois, a platform has to have practitioners licensed to work in those places.
Shane Kelly is the CEO of Destination Pet, a nationwide network of pet care services. He compares veterinarians to pediatricians, who rely heavily on in-person consultations.
"The patient can't communicate, can't speak, which puts certain 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 a growing part of the business all the way around."
At Bond Vet, the plan is to continue growing its physical and digital operations. The company opened its second clinic in December on Manhattan's Upper East Side, followed by its third on the Upper West Side last month, during the pandemic. A fourth clinic in the Chelsea neighborhood on the West Side is scheduled to open this summer. Punjani said the company is looking to open another 10-20 clinics in the next few years, including outside of New York in cities like Boston, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
For pets that require emergency services, Bond Vet has a system in place to limit human contact. Pet owners come to a drop-off spot outside, where they meet employees in full personal protective equipment. After the initial consultation, a vet reaches out to the family to discuss the situation, the pet's history and next steps. The pets are tested for Covid-19 if they're showing symptoms of the virus.
"The feedback we've gotten is that clients are resoundingly open to this type of appointment, which maintains safety for everyone involved," said Punjani, who previously worked in private equity and investment banking. He started the company in 2018 with Dr. Zay Satchu, a veterinarian who is also his wife, and Lukas Keindl, Bond Vet's chief product officer.
While business at the clinics dipped after the initial stay-at-home orders were put in place, Punjani said that traffic is starting to pick back up. Rather than replacing in-person services, he sees the telehealth option as a way to keep a large number of clients from making unnecessary trips to the vet.
"What we see today as the city begins to unlock is an uptick back to pre-Covid levels," Punjani said. "We're working with governing bodies for guidance on when to resume elective procedures and elective wellness appointments."