A group of veterinarians and animal owners in California is calling on the state to allow more telemedicine for animals even after the pandemic is over.
In a federal lawsuit due on Monday, the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said the state should not end permitted exemptions during the pandemic for remote visits and is asking that the rules are further relaxed.
“People can use telemedicine for themselves and their children, so why not for their pets?” said Brandy Kuentzel, general counsel at the San Francisco SPCA. “Telemedicine can be an essential tool in improving the lives of pets and the people who love them.”
The pandemic has changed the way people live and work, and many want these changes to continue after the threat of COVID-19 subsides. As the lawsuit notes, people “live in a world that has become accustomed daily to medical appointments, court hearings, and classes offered by Zoom and other online teleconferencing platforms.”
The lawsuit argues that pet owners and veterinarians have a 1st Amendment free speech right to telemedicine. The restrictions on veterinarians also violate guarantees of equal protection, as doctors who treat people can do so from a distance, the lawsuit argues.
The state veterinary board has “arbitrarily deprived veterinarians of the ability to speak with clients using modern telemedicine communication methods, such as Zoom, which are available to physicians who treat humans, and who are have become increasingly valuable and essential tools for the provision of and comprehensive health care, ”says the costume.
California has justified its rules limiting veterinary telemedicine on the grounds that animals cannot speak, according to the lawsuit. But doctors regularly conduct virtual visits with patients who cannot speak, including infants, and rely on family members to relay information.
“In light of California’s treatment of telemedicine for humans, this rationale makes little sense,” the lawsuit says.
A pandemic rule that expires in June allows California vets to treat animals remotely if they were already patients.
The group of pet owners and vets named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit said remote visits should also be allowed for new patients and pets with new conditions. The costume notes that many animals become extremely anxious when taken to the vet, and some people live in remote locations without easy access to animal specialists.
California was one of many states to ease veterinary telemedicine restrictions during the pandemic, which has sparked a boom in pet adoptions. Veterinarians in Ontario, Canada have successfully used the type of telemedicine sought by the prosecution for almost three years, according to a statement accompanying the prosecution.
Other states, including Michigan, Oklahoma and Virginia, already allow vets to view animals from a distance as long as the vet deems appropriate, the costume says.
Courts have upheld professional licensing restrictions like the California Veterinarians’ Rules on Telemedicine, but the lawsuit says the Supreme Court made it clear that states do not have “absolute power to reduce First Amendment rights. ‘a group by simply imposing a licensing requirement.
Regardless of the legal outcome, the lawsuit, which must be filed in Sacramento, may pressure the state to remove the restrictions. He seeks an injunction against them.
Veterinary medical advice could not be reached for immediate comment.