Veterinary issues in 2016: Will this be the year of telemedicine?


Were hearing lots of buzz surrounding this technology; the challenge is to sort the helpfulness from the hype.

Telemedicine has been around for a long time in veterinary medicine. Anytime a general practitioner emails radiographs to a boarded radiologist for a consultation, or an equine doc beams a medical record update to her clinic from the field where she did her exam, that's telemedicine. But lately it's been taking on new forms. And the rapidly changing landscape has many observers highly interested, if not outright queasy.

Regular readers of dvm360 will be familiar with Ron Hines, the “Internet vet,” who lost a court case in which he alleged that the state's unwillingness to let him provide veterinary medical advice via phone and email without examining a patient impinged on his right to free speech. The courts of Texas did not agree, citing the public health interest of requiring a veterinarian-client-patient relationship, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case. Hines' parting shot was that it was just a matter of time before telemedicine caught up in the veterinary world.

Here at dvm360 it seems we get a press release per week announcing the launch of a new telemedicine platform that enables communication between veterinarians and pet owners via a mobile app or website. Some of these are founded by veterinarians with decades of experience; some are created by trust fund heirs looking to capitalize financially on pet owners' fears. Currently there are about six by our rough count, at least until the next one is launched-which will probably be next week.

The American Veterinary Medical Association has tasked one of its advisory panels with looking into the issue. The association doesn't currently have a policy on telemedicine, but its model practice act does state that a veterinarian-client-patient relationship “cannot be established solely by telephonic or other electronic means.” But what should the chain of connection be between the veterinarian who touches the patient and the communication with the owner via smartphone? The newly created Veterinary Innovation Council, part of the North American Veterinary Community, will also be examining telemedicine, perhaps by working directly with a state board in a large-scale telemedicine “lab” situation.

We at dvm360 will be keeping a close eye on this issue as well. Our main concern? Who's in it for the good of the profession-and who wants to bypass it entirely? Stay tuned.

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