Many pet owners have been left worried about obtaining consultations for their pets during the lockdown as vet surgeries remain open only for emergency treatments. Several pet insurers have introduced 24/7 video consultations with vets at no additional cost as coronavirus forces the industry to invest in digital solutions.

Dog owners, in particular, will have welcomed the introduction of on-demand, virtual vet appointments given that they are the most likely to hold pet insurance. Around two thirds of dog owners have pet insurance, according to GlobalData’s 2019 UK Insurance Consumer Survey. Lifetime cover is the most common policy type, with 64.2% of respondents indicating that they had this cover in place.

Reassuring policyholders during the pandemic has been a key area of focus for pet insurers. At a time when obtaining physical vet appointments has been challenging, remote assistance would have proved to be a useful way of obtaining convenient, round-the-clock expert care. Policyholders are typically required to download an app to obtain video appointments, enabling them to use this service freely and as often as required. Other than providing care, obtaining professional advice in this way can also help reduce stress for the pet owner.

Covéa Insurance is among those that have introduced virtual vet appointments through its partnership with FirstVet. Another example is PetPlan, which has started offering virtual visits with vets in the US and Canada, with policyholders not incurring extra costs. Overall, virtual vet appointments are currently a service offered by a limited number of providers.

Arguably, insurtechs were better equipped to provide support to customers during the pandemic. These tech-savvy companies have largely focused on the digital channel since their inception. Companies like Bought By Many and Waggle offered virtual appointments before the COVID-19 crisis.

Meanwhile, the introduction of virtual appointments largely mirrors developments in the health insurance space. Health insurers, too, have ramped up investments in virtual healthcare, with providers offering telemedicine services as part of their cover benefits.

The pandemic is likely to change the way that individuals interact with each other, accelerating the use of digital technologies. The introduction of virtual vet appointments as an additional benefit is bound to improve customer satisfaction among existing policyholders. Furthermore, it offers the potential to incentivise pet owners with no cover to take out pet insurance in the longer term. As such, it is unlikely that insurers that have introduced virtual vet appointments would discontinue the service.