Telemedicine for all creatures great and small? Veterinarians debate.

Will veterinarians be covered by ongoing telemedicine legislation? This surprisingly became an issue with the New Jersey telemedicine bill [TTA 11 Aug] S.291 prior to signature by Governor Christie. The debate was whether “health care providers” covered under the licensing statutes in Title 45 of NJ’s Revised Statutes also included veterinarians in the “including but not limited to” language as well as the nature of the “proper provider-patient relationship” and “patient request”. Reportedly the Governor held his signature in order to sort this out, meeting with healthcare and veterinary representatives. The final bill does not appear to specifically address veterinary practice.

For its part, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Practice Advisory Panel (AP) came out solidly in favor of non-inclusion in human laws like New Jersey’s in their January report. Their view of the patient-physician relationship is logically different because the animal patient cannot give consent, but an owner/client can, and that difference is not specified in human medicine laws. In the AP’s view, “telemedicine shall only be conducted within an existing VCPR [veterinarian client patient relationship], with the exception for advice given in an emergency care situation until that patient(s) can be seen by or transported to a veterinarian” which is increasingly not true of human telemedicine. Law firm Fox Rothschild’s animal law practice blog cited instances such as when a Texas veterinarian was found to have violated the state practice act by offering advice over the internet. 

Many veterinarians are calling for AVMA to seek guidance from organizations like the ATA to better codify animal telemedicine practice. ATA, for its part, has stayed apart from state debates while remaining generally supportive. The gap in veterinary practice is especially acute with a declining number of practitioners caring for food animals (livestock) and in rural veterinary practice. But who will care for the unicorns? Seriously, here is a gap that needs to be filled. mHealth Intelligence

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