Earlier this year, a veterinarian in Connecticut performed a basic exam upon a senior horse prior to sedating him for a routine dental procedure. The 19-year-old gelding was a standard pasture puff--in he was in good condition, basically healthy, and a low-maintenance kind of guy. But when she put her stethoscope to his chest and heard what sounded like jungle drums thumping inside, she knew something wasn't right. There was no cardiac murmur, jugular venous distension, or dependent edema. What was going on? And what would happen if the horse was sedated as planned?

Standing in that Connecticut field, the veterinarian was able to get a cardiologist's opinion on the animal's cardiac status, without transporting the animal (or the cardiologist).

Telemedicine, and specifically telecardiology, isn't new. The basics of the service that puts experts alongside ambulatory practitioners have been in place since the 1980s. But the technology has changed with the times, and the practice today has little similarity to when Deborah Hadlock, VMD, Dipl. ABVP, and CVA, of IDEXX Telemedicine started working with CardioPet, the predecessor to IDEXX, in the 1980s.

"It's really expanded in terms of what diagnostic information comes in to us to be assessed," Hadlock said. "In the 1980s, only few veterinarians were doing echocardiography, and most of those were based at university hospitals. That new technology came to the fore and has been fine-tuned and developed. Now we have color flow Doppler, and all these things have been added on. So that's given us enormous amounts of information to go along with our ECGs to interpret the cardiac status of an animal."



Dr. Hadlock assesses a cardiology case via computer and phone.

Telemedicine allows a veterinarian to get a specialist's insight into a case without having to transport the patient. The practitioner calls the IDEXX office, where a technician records patient details (i.e., breed, age, reason for examination) and receives the phone-transmitted ECG along with data such as blood test results, radiographic findings, or echocardiographic findings

This information is then transferred to the board-certified specialist, who can call the practitioner back within an hour if a case is marked as a stat (urgent).

In the past seven years IDEXX Telemedicine consultants have weighed in on more than 880 equine cardiology cases and more than 90 equine radiology cases. This number includes a few mules, llamas, alpacas, and cows.

The technology used in equine telemedicine took a step forward in September, when IDEXX Telemedicine introduced new leads specifically for equine use. The 8-foot leads allow the practitioner to work comfortably with the horse to record an electrocardiogram (ECG), rather than "standing in a telephone booth with the horse," as was described by one practitioner of using the small animal equipment.

How about that horse in Connecticut? Hadlock reviewed the horse's ECG and found that he was in atrial fibrillation. Because this horse was in no danger from this condition, the practitioner elected not to treat the fibrillation and to perform the dental procedure without anesthesia.

"It was a great determining factor on whether she was going to sedate the horse or not," Hadlock reflected.

Learn more about IDEXX Telemedicine.

About the Author

Erin Ryder

Erin Ryder is a former news editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care. She owns a portly gray gelding named Duncan and dabbles in several equestrian disciplines, with an emphasis on dressage.

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