Lawsuit may expand veterinary care to millions

My cat Ziggy, sleeping on my office computer. This could soon be his new veterinarian’s “waiting room” if a California lawsuit in favor of telehealth appointments is successful. Less stress, less cost, more healthcare, more lives saved.

A federal lawsuit filed in California contends that state laws and regulations prohibiting veterinarian telehealth appointments — using zoom and other video conferencing technologies for care instead of in-person appointments — violates the First Amendment.

The current pandemic waiver which allows families with sick pets to conduct zoom appointments with their veterinarians is set to expire in June. The California Veterinarian Board will then require once again in-person exams.

If the lawsuit is successful, millions of animals, including those in pounds, will benefit by:

  • Expanding access to care across the state, country, and globe;
  • Expanding access to care for pets living with people of limited financial means by reducing costs for such care;
  • Allowing shelters to reduce the number of animals who are surrendered because of medical concerns by helping people resolve those concerns in a cost-effective way; and,
  • Improving the care of animals already in the shelter by expanding access for small to medium shelters who do not have onsite veterinarians.

“The lawsuit contends pet owners and veterinarians have a 1st Amendment free speech right to telemedicine. Restrictions on veterinarians also violate equal protection guarantees because doctors who treat people can do so remotely, the suit argues.” According to plaintiffs, “People can use telemedicine for themselves and their children, so why not for their pets?”

The Dean of UC Berkeley Law School, a constitutional scholar, said the restriction on telehealth appointments for pets is “obviously is a restriction on speech.” He believes the lawsuit will be successful because the state veterinarian board has “arbitrarily deprived veterinarians of the opportunity to speak with clients using modern telemedicine communication methods, like Zoom, that are available to doctors who care for human beings, and which have become increasingly valuable and essential tools to the delivery of safe and comprehensive healthcare.”

It is not the first lawsuit of its kind and hopefully it won’t be the last. In December, a Federal Appeals Court ruled that a similar Texas law prohibiting veterinarians from giving online advice without a physical examination of the animal violates a veterinarian’s First Amendment rights.


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