California Veterinarians Risk Losing Licenses for Treating New Patients via Video During Pandemic

A telehealth announcement shocks veterinarians in California trying to safely treat their patients during the Coronavirus pandemic.

While many states amended their telemedicine laws to account for stay-at-home mandates, the California Veterinary Medical Board has made it harder for a pet to be seen by video call.

The board announced Thursday that telemedicine may only be used with existing patients for preexisting conditions. Veterinarians like Dr. Shea Cox with PetHospice say these measures directly violate the medical professional oath ‘to do no harm.’ 

“Putting up barriers to healthcare is the opposite of what should be done to protect pets,” said Cox. “Veterinarians should be allowed to use sound judgment regarding telemedicine without fear of repercussion.”

The board released a statement Thursday saying, “Telemedicine may be conducted by a veterinarian only within an existing Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship (VCPR) and can be used only for specific medical conditions for which the animal patient has been previously examined and diagnosed by the veterinarian.”

“Taking this vital tool away from pet parents is harmful – especially during the time of a pandemic,” said Cox. “Telemedicine can address many issues, keeping people at home; asking pet parents to come into a clinic causes unnecessary exposure to all.”

Veterinarians use telemedicine for triage, symptom management, and to offload nonemergency care from overburdened veterinarians. Many are operating with reduced staff to comply with social distancing. Now, veterinarians can’t see telehealth patients referred from other vets until they can first physically touch the patient.

“Say you’re out of the fluids that manage your dog’s kidney disease. Now, I can’t call in medicine for you unless I’ve physically examined your pet within the year even if I have the diagnosis from your primary veterinarian,” said Cox. “I’d have to first send one of our vets into your home, which then leaves the humans more susceptible to COVID-19.”

Veterinarians are frustrated, asking why California isn’t following other states by making temporary changes to laws in order to better serve pets and their people. “We shouldn’t have to make the choice between risking our lives or risking our license in order to treat pets,” says Cox.

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