San Francisco SPCA challenges restrictive telemedicine policy

dvm360 Staff
dvm360, dvm360 June 2021, Volume 56,

The city’s SPCA questions the legality of a law that restricts veterinary telemedicine use, currently prohibiting veterinarians from discussing patient health with clients virtually if they have not first met in person.

The San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) filed a First Amendment lawsuit on Monday against the California Veterinary Medical Board, contesting the law that prevents veterinarians from using telemedicine to discuss patient health with pet owners unless they have already met face-to-face.

The lawsuit insists that prohibiting veterinarians from engaging in telemedicine violates veterinarians' and pet owners' First Amendment right and is detrimental to animal welfare—depriving animals of access to care throughout the state, according to a company release. Additionally, the lawsuit requests to grant veterinarians the ability to use telemedicine based on their judgment and training.

"With a growing pet population, it is the San Francisco SPCA's top priority to ensure access to veterinary care for all animals in California, says Brandy Kuentzel, senior vice president and general counsel at the San Francisco SPCA in the release. "By limiting telemedicine, this law is restricting equitable access to animal care among California's diverse people and geographic regions."

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many states (including California) have loosened limitations on veterinary telemedicine. In Ontario, Canada, veterinarians have successfully incorporated the telemedicine practices the lawsuit seeks for about 3 years.

"The California Veterinary Medical Board is suggesting they don't trust veterinarians that they licensed to make sound decisions for animals," says Kuentzel. "The law not only restricts veterinarians and pet owners' constitutional right to free speech, but it also restricts a pet's access to veterinary care."

"People can use telemedicine for themselves and their children, so why not for their pets?" Kuentzel questions. "Telemedicine can be a vital tool to improve the lives of pets and the people who love them."

Learn more about the ongoing lawsuit here.

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