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Florida bill expands veterinary healthcare access

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With the continuing rise of demand for telemedicine services,1 ensuring pets have access to virtual healthcare is crucial. Following suit to the increase in telehealth services across the nation, a new Florida bill expanding access to virtual pet healthcare recently went into effect.

The Providing Equity in Telehealth Services (PETS) Act (House Bill 849) authorizes veterinarians in Florida to practice veterinary telehealth.2 The bill, modeled after the state’s human telehealth provider legislation, received unanimous support and was sponsored by Senator Jennifer Bradley (R-Fleming Island) and Representatives Same Killebrew (R-Winter Haven) and James Buchanan (R-North Port).2 The new legislation enables veterinarians to establish a veterinary-client-patient-relationship (VCPR) online, allowing them to provide diagnoses, treatment plans, and prescriptions virtually.3 The bill took effect July 1, 2024.

“This legislation gives veterinarians the professional flexibility to offer telehealth services and opens more doors to the veterinary healthcare system for pet owners who face difficulties accessing veterinary care for their pets, including senior citizens, working families, disabled individuals, and Floridians who live in rural areas and other veterinary deserts,” said Sen. Bradley in an American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) news release.2

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

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

Vetster: A virtual practice platform for veterinarians

Acting on the new bill, Vetster, a veterinary telehealth and pet care marketplace, announced that veterinary professionals in Florida 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 how easily veterinary care can be accessed in counties throughout the contiguous Unites States, revealed that 20 counties in Florida have an accessibility score of 10 or less.3 With scores ranging from 0 to 100, a score of 10 means that veterinary care is “nearly inaccessible” in that county.5

“Telemedicine is a vital solution to helping pets in Florida receive the care they need. It fundamentally changes and improves the health outcomes for our pets,” Cerys Goodall, chief operating officer at Vetster said in an organizational release.3 “Vetster’s purpose-driven medical platform connects veterinarians and pet owners, offering full 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 the PETS Act to expand access to veterinary telehealth. News 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. News 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 vet 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. The Veterinary Care Accessibility Score. The Veterinary Care Accessibility Project. Accessed July 2, 2024.

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