Not all veterinary telemedicine is good telemedicine, say critics wary of remote care
In an explosion of recent developments, courts, lawmakers and companies in the emerging online animal health care market are poised to influence how veterinary telemedicine is regulated, and their activities are testing the resolve of organized veterinary medicine.
The topic in recent weeks has been the focus of active, sometimes frenzied, legislative efforts to loosen restrictions in Florida and tighten restrictions in Nevada. A lawsuit filed this week in California asserts that the state’s veterinary telemedicine rules violate the U.S. Constitution. And a mysterious new company is vying to control the telemedicine narrative.
A catalyst to all the activity is the pandemic, which has prompted the emergency suspension of state restrictions governing telemedicine across much of the U.S. to help stop the spread of coronavirus. As COVID-19 made remote care necessary, a question that preceded the pandemic has become more urgent and contentious: Is allowing a veterinarian to treat an animal without having ever touched it potentially harmful or beneficial to patient care in the long term?
The crux of the issue is how to establish a veterinary-client-patient-relationship, or VCPR, which is the foundation for all veterinary care. Historically, in the vast majority of states, a VCPR is considered established only after an in-person exam. In states that have codified the requirement, it is illegal for veterinarians to treat, diagnose and prescribe medications for patients online if they haven’t had a face-to-face visit.
That stance is backed by the American Veterinary Medical Association, which asserts that because animals can’t talk, a hands-on exam is indispensable. But some key players in the veterinary community advocate loosening the restrictions. Since 2018, the American Association of Veterinary State Boards, a national organization for state regulators, has promoted the online establishment of VCPRs, consistent with regulations in 48 states that permit physicians to establish relationships with human patients remotely, no face-to-face visit required.
The landscape is rapidly changing, and not in a consistent direction. Michigan, for example, recently repealed the need for an in-person exam, effective April 15. Days later, lawmakers in Indiana did the opposite, affirming that a VCPR can be established only if the veterinarian first conducts a hands-on exam or, in the case of herd management, is “personally acquainted” with the keeping of the animals and husbandry practices. Alaska and North Carolina are mulling similar restrictions.
Narrow miss in the Sunshine State
Rep. René Plasencia had a ringside seat to the controversy in Florida, where a bill promoted by Dutch Pet, a newly formed company at the forefront of deregulation efforts, put the Florida Veterinary Medical Association on the defensive. Incorporated in February in Delaware, Dutch Pet is led by California entrepreneur Joe Spector, co-founder of Hims & Hers Health Inc., a direct-to-consumer business that provides a telemedicine platform for human patients seeking Viagra and related medications.
Pushed by the company’s lobbyists and with backing from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruety to Animals, the Florida House passed the measure on April 23, despite opposition from veterinarians; Plasencia was one of nine representatives who voted no. The bill, which would have relaxed the…