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Florida bill expands access to veterinary medical care

Photo: gnatiuklv/Adobe Stock

With the continued increase in demand for telemedicine services,1 Ensuring pets have access to virtual healthcare is critical. Following the rise of telehealth services across the country, a new bill recently went into effect in Florida that expands access to virtual healthcare for pets.

The Equity in Telehealth Services (PETS) Act (House Bill 849) authorizes Florida veterinarians to practice veterinary telehealth.2 The bill, modeled after the state’s human telehealth provider legislation, received unanimous support and was sponsored by Sen. Jennifer Bradley (R-Fleming Island) and Reps. Same Killebrew (R-Winter Haven) and James Buchanan (R-North Port).2 New legislation allows veterinarians to establish an online Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship (VCPR), allowing them to provide diagnoses, treatment plans and prescriptions virtually.3 The bill came into force on July 1, 2024.

“This legislation provides veterinarians with the professional flexibility to offer telehealth services and opens more doors to the veterinary health care system for pet owners who face challenges accessing veterinary care for their pets, including seniors, working families, people with disabilities, and Floridians living in rural areas and other veterinary deserts,” Senator Bradley said in a press release from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).2

“Telehealth can be a lifesaver for pets on weekends and evenings when most clinics are closed and provides more options for owners of large, fearful and older pets to see veterinarians from the comfort of home, providing essential care to more pets when and where they need it,” she continued.2

Before the bill was signed, an outdated Florida statute from the pre-COVID-19 era prohibited veterinarians from practicing veterinary medicine or prescribing medications without performing a recent in-person examination of the patient.4 The law was a difficult hurdle for many pet owners, animal shelters and veterinarians, especially amid a current nationwide shortage of veterinary professionals, according to the ASPCA.4

Vetster: A virtual practice platform for veterinarians

In compliance with the new bill, Vetster, a veterinary telehealth and pet care marketplace, announced that Florida veterinary professionals can now create their virtual practice using Vetster. This medical platform includes an integrated booking and payment system and stored medical records.3

According to Vetster, the Veterinary Care Accessibility Score, an index that assesses the ease with which veterinary care can be accessed in counties across the contiguous United States, revealed that 20 Florida counties have an accessibility score of 10 or less.3 With scores ranging from 0 to 100, a score of 10 means veterinary care is “almost unaffordable” in that county.5

“Telemedicine is a vital solution to help Florida’s pets get the care they need. It fundamentally changes and improves the health outcomes for our pets,” Cerys Goodall, Vetster’s chief operating officer, said in a statement from the organization.3 “Vetster’s purpose-built medical platform connects veterinarians and pet owners, offering comprehensive health histories and comprehensive care plans. Our platform makes pet care between clinic visits more affordable, accessible and convenient.”

References

  1. Three ways Covid-19 has changed the veterinary profession. HealthforAnimals. Accessed July 2, 2024. https://healthforanimals.org/resources/newsletter/articles/three-ways-covid-19-has-changed-the-veterinary-profession/#:~:text=Accelerated%20uptake%20of%20telemedicine%20tools&text=The%20number%20of%20veterinarians%20offering,services%2C%20according%20to%20pet%20owners.
  2. ASPCA Commends Florida Legislature for Passing PETS Act to Expand Access to Veterinary Telehealth. Press Release. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. March 6, 2024. Accessed July 2, 2024. https://www.aspca.org/about-us/press-releases/aspca-commends-florida-legislature-passing-pets-act-expand-access-veterinary
  3. Vetster Ready to Serve 12.5 Million Pet Owners in Florida with Veterinary Telemedicine. Press Release. Vetster. July 1, 2024. Accessed July 2, 2024. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20240701795136/en/Vetster-Ready-to-Serve-12.5-million-pet-owners-in-Florida-with-Veterinary-Telemedicine
  4. Florida: Expand Access to Critical Veterinary Care! American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. June 21, 2024. Accessed July 2, 2024. https://secure.aspca.org/action/fl-telemed?ms=wb_con_press-release-fl-telemed-20240306&initialms=wb_con_press-release-fl-telemed-20240306
  5. Accessibility to Veterinary Care Score. Accessibility to Veterinary Care Project. Accessed July 2, 2024. https://www.accesstovetcare.org/vcas-map