Veterinarians can now use telemedicine practices to address animal health needs during the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to a decision announced on Tuesday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“This pandemic has had impacts on many of our everyday lives and professions, and during this time, we need to provide veterinarians with the latitude to expand the use of telemedicine in the care of animals, not only pets, but also the animals that produce our food,” said Stephen M. Hahn, FDA commissioner, in a prepared statement. “The FDA is providing flexibility that will help veterinarians maintain the health of animals during the pandemic, while allowing for the social distancing that is so important in limiting the further spread of coronavirus disease across the country and the world.”
Federal veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) regulations have required veterinarians, historically, to physically examine animal patients to make medical determinations and prescribe treatment. Veterinarians not complying with the law were at risk of losing their license.
John Howe, president of the American Veterinary Medicine Association, weighed-in on the FDA’s decision during an interview with AgriTalk host Chip Flory on Wednesday.
Howe said the temporary relaxation of requirements is a good thing, but something animal owners and veterinarians need to use with caution. “I’ve had clients call me and say their cow has one problem, but you go out there and it was something else,” he noted.
Still, FDA’s decision will make it easier for veterinarians to work with farmers and ranchers in the near term—whether they need treatment for a pet or a large animal. Based on a video, photographs and description of the health problem, “the veterinarian will be able to prescribe extra-label drugs or write a veterinary feed directive say for a group of beef cattle suffering from respiratory disease to get them treated,” Howe said.
While the FDA is suspending enforcement of the federal regulations, Howe cautioned that individual states have the final say in whether or how telemedicine is used. Livestock owners should contact their local veterinarian to determine what telemedicine options are available.