|SnapVet--courtesy of SnapVet|
The telemedicine movement has grown exponentially in human health, with hundreds of mobile apps and other technologies being launched to help patients connect with their doctors in between office visits. Now insurance giant UnitedHealth Group ($UNH) is bringing the same capability to dog and cat owners, with a new venture called SnapVet.
The technology, introduced recently by United's Optum unit, allows pet owners to report symptoms they observe in their four-legged friends via their mobile phones or the Internet. They can also upload photos and videos to aid in diagnoses. Veterinarians have to opt in to the app, and those who do can charge a fee to clients for providing consultations remotely. The fees are set by the veterinarians, according to the SnapVet website.
David Berglund, founder and CEO of SnapVet and an entrepreneur in residence at Optum, told the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal that more than a dozen vets have signed up for SnapVet so far and Optum is working hard to recruit more. Pet owners can also sign up for the service, and if their vets don't participate, SnapVet will reach out to those practices to suggest they join.
Berglund came up with the idea for SnapVet while working in Optum's digital innovation lab. He told the paper he believed it would offer a valued convenience to pet owners facing minor health issues or managing chronic conditions in their pets, such as allergies. The service is only available for dog and cat owners, but it may eventually expand to large animals such as horses, Berglund said.
UnitedHealth has long preached the value of digital medicine. In 2013, the company's chief consumer officer, Tom Paul, told FierceHealthPayer that insurers would only succeed if they developed products that fit the lives of consumers, rather than making consumers conform to what payers need. Developing new digital products has been a big part of United's consumer-engagement strategy.