Understanding Telehealth in Veterinary Medicine
Veterinary telehealth legislation has been voted upon in Florida in recent years, and we are preparing
for it to reappear. As leading animal advocates in the state, we want to do our part to protect animals as
much as our dedicated veterinary professionals do.
The FVMA has long supported veterinary telehealth legislature that provides protections for the
veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR). We are committed to nurturing opportunities that properly
protect animals, their owners, and the veterinarians who support them.
Telehealth is a term used loosely in the discussion of veterinary care in the state of Florida as well as the entire United States. The term describes a large umbrella of healthcare modalities tied together by the use of an electronic device for communication between the care provider and the client/patient.
Discussions often center on a veterinarian or staff member’s ability to interact with a pet owner about general care, which can lend itself well to virtual communication. This type of interaction is labeled teleadvice, and it is limited to providing information, opinions, or guidance that is not specific to a patient’s health.
Veterinary professionals often receive calls from animal owners during an emergency seeking immediate advice as to what to do next. This can lead to some quick recommendations such as how to temporarily bandage a wound, manage the ingestion of a toxic substance, or use an over-the-counter antihistamine which is usually followed by directions to go to the closest veterinary care facility for proper treatment. This type of interaction is labeled teletriage. Similar to teleadvice, a diagnosis is not rendered during teletriage as this type of interaction is focused on helping animal owners make safe decisions in uncertain situations.
Neither of these, teleadvise or teletriage, require an established VCPR to perform.
Only a small slice of the area under the veterinary telehealth umbrella is occupied by actual veterinary telemedicine, defined as the act of a Florida-licensed veterinarian diagnosing and subsequently prescribing legend drugs (commonly known as prescription drugs) or controlled substances strictly by telecommunications or audio/visual means.
It is our firm position that this diagnosing and prescribing must only occur, for the direct benefit of the animal, within an established veterinary/client/patient relationship (VCPR). This VCPR, initiated by the physical exam of an individual animal or a site visit for herd health, gives the treating veterinarian some familiarity with the pet’s true baseline condition and allows for accurate diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment. It also allows the veterinarian to determine the agricultural site’s upkeep and operation, and the owner or site operator’s abilities to properly complete the recommended treatments. Under current Florida veterinary rules and Federal Veterinary Directives, this must occur at least once a year.
THE TELEHEALTH COALITION
Collaboration rests at the heart of our legislative efforts – with our membership in the Telehealth Coalition key. Spearheaded by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the coalition intends to collaborate across the veterinary and animal health industry to enhance and expand care by leveraging technology while safeguarding the welfare of animals and people.
The coalition’s members are essential in helping better position veterinary practices to tackle telemedicine and are an essential part of protecting the VCPR. As members of the Telehealth Coalition, we believe veterinary telehealth and, in particular, telemedicine holds great promise for improving continuity of care and strengthening the relationship between veterinarians, their clients, and their patients. We also support the recommendation of the AVMA that a VCPR should not be established via electronic means.
WHAT WE’RE DOING ABOUT IT
We are attempting to introduce our own version of the past years’ telehealth bill, as previous attempts at the legislation have failed to include proper VCPR protections. In the draft version of our bill, research, and conversations with all affected parties has led to proposed legislation we believe can serve as equal protection for pets, owners, and veterinarians alike.
OUR GRASSROOTS EFFORTS
Our work in fulfilling our mission through legislative advocacy doesn’t end with any singular bill. While our focus is currently on telehealth and protecting VCPR, our defense of veterinary medicine never ceases. That is why we created the FVMA Advocacy Ambassador program, which provides participants with opportunities like meeting with legislators, visiting with district representatives to discuss legislative topics, virtual legislative strategy meetings, and exclusive communication on FVMA legislative maneuvers.
The FVMA Political Action Committee (PAC) is an essential defender of veterinary medicine in Florida. A bipartisan, nonprofit, political committee formed to raise contributions from our members, its financial health is essential to our ability to be able to support animals through lobbying efforts. When it comes time for Florida’s legislative session each year, the FVMA works tirelessly to ensure veterinary interests are considered as thousands of bills are introduced. We ask you to consider supporting the FVMA PAC.
This article references material published in the FVMA white paper, “What is Veterinary Telemedicine?” (2022), written by Dr. Richard SutliffTags: Advocacy, Legislative, telehealth, Veterinary telehealth