A cat sits in a cage in Garden Grove, Calif., on Feb. 19, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
To provide easier access to veterinary care in California, a new law, effective Jan. 1, will enable licensed veterinarians to practice virtually for preliminary diagnoses and prescribing some drugs.
Assembly Bill 1399, jointly authored by Assemblymembers Laura Friedman (D–Burbank) and Josh Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom Oct. 8 and allows California veterinarians to use video technology to assess an animal’s health. Existing law requires in-person examinations.
“During the pandemic, we saw how effective telehealth can be for human healthcare; so why not apply this working model to veterinary care where there is a huge shortage?” Assemblywoman Friedman said in a June press release by the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in (SPCA), a co-sponsor of the bill.
Assemblyman Lowenthal said the bill will especially help those with less access to in-person veterinary clinics.
“Expanding access to telemedicine is particularly important for humans and animals that live in rural locations, lack access to transportation or have other mobility issues. As we face a statewide shortage of veterinarians, the virtual house call is an excellent option for our pets to improve access to healthcare, when deemed appropriate by an attending veterinarian,” he said in the same press release.
A rescue dog smiles for the camera at an animal shelter in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. (Courtesy of Helen Woodward Animal Center)
In a May press release, SPCA officials said more than 344,000 animals in California lacked sufficient access to licensed veterinarians and technicians, resulting in overcrowded shelters, more illnesses and stress on caregivers and shelter staff.
Currently, veterinarians can’t prescribe controlled substances to animals, drugs or medications for active racehorses, and antimicrobial—bacteria fighting—drug prescriptions, with disoges for more than 14 days, without an in-person examination.
They also must use “professional judgement” when providing medical advice or treatment via telehealth, according to the bill’s text, and cannot use audio-only or online questionnaires to establish a relationship with a client.
Also, previously, vets were only allowed to provide services from locations permitted and registered with the Veterinary Medical Board—such as clinics—but under the new law they can work from anywhere, such as from home.
Previous attempts to allow vets to work via telehealth have been shot down by the veterinary board, because, it said, there are some instances when being face-to-face with the animal is necessary, according to an analysis of the bill.
“While telemedicine is proving to be an effective form of treatment in human health care, animals are fundamentally different and cannot benefit from telemedicine in the same aspects that humans can. Unlike people, animals are unable to communicate their sickness or symptoms. Communication is expressed solely by the animal owner, who likely has no veterinary training to properly diagnose or express a sickness or symptom of the animal,” board officials said in a written 2019 response to some asking for a revision to the telemedicine regulations.
The board ultimately concluded in-person visits were necessary, a rule which is now overturned.
In the recent analysis, various lawmakers said the bill was partly proposed because of the “[b]oard’s efforts to codify its current veterinary telemedicine policy,” after years of being advised against it.
“Telemedicine will reduce animal suffering, alleviate some barriers to obtaining veterinary care, improve pet retention, and extend the capacity of animal shelters to serve animals and their communities,” SPCA officials stated in a recent press release following the governor’s approval of the bill.