The state is one of the first to fully sanction veterinary telemedicine, a growing trend since the pandemic that has shown to benefit not only the pet but the pet's owners.
Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs has signed legislation allowing residents to use telemedicine to access care for their pets.
SB 1053, which drew almost unanimous support from both the Senate and the House, was supported by a strong coalition of animal rights groups, veterinarians, and farming advocates. Among other things, the bill amends current law to allow pet owners and veterinarians to create a relationship via virtual care rather than first meeting in person.
While the industry is overseen by the American Veterinary Medical Association, state veterinary medicine boards are responsible for establishing telehealth guidelines and rules. The most common uses are for initial diagnoses, to determine whether the pet needs to be brought into the office, for consults with specialists such as radiologists, and for the care and treatment of farm animals and livestock.
Most states require that a veterinarian-client patient relationship (VCPR) be established in a face-to-face meeting before moving to telehealth, with the exception of an emergency. And many states and the AVMA oppose the use of telemedicine for remote consulting offered directly to the public in the absence of a VCPR – in other words, direct-to-consumer telehealth for new clients.
Support for veterinary telemedicine soared during the pandemic, when pet owners sought a means of getting care for their pets without visiting a veterinarian. Some 19 states, including Arizona, passed legislation to enable veterinarians to conduct virtual visits during the COVID-19 crisis, and Arizona is one of the first to make that practice permanent.
According to the Veterinary Virtual Care Association, only Idaho, Virginia, and New Jersey allow virtual care for pets without restrictions, while roughly 33 states require either an in-person exam or some sort of prior relationship before switching to telemedicine. Only New York bans any use of telemedicine for veterinary care.
Arizona's approval of a veterinary telemedicine bill drew support from the Goldwater Institute, a conservative and libertarian think tank based in Phoenix.
"A chronic shortage of veterinarians has created veterinary deserts throughout the United States," Mark Cushing, founder and CEO of the Animal Policy Group, wrote earlier this month on the organization's website. "Pet owners of all ages don’t hesitate to seek veterinary advice and care, but such care is often available only through digital tools. Veterinary trade associations resist these changes, ignoring the key principle that telemedicine requires an informed choice by the veterinarian and pet owner to proceed without an in-person examination of the pet."
While aiming to improve access to care and clinical outcomes for pets, veterinary telemedicine is also showing up on the radar for health plans, self-insured businesses, and private payers, who see pet care as an important part of member engagement and satisfaction. Pets are also being considered a social determinant of health, with research showing that pet ownership has a positive impact on the owner's health.
Pet care companies like Chewy and Petco Health have been expanding into telemedicine service, with the latter estimating the value of the service at $119 billion in 2021. And just last month, Walmart signed a deal with pet telehealth company Pawp to offer its members access to veterinary services via video or text without an appointment.
Eric Wicklund is the Innovation and Technology Editor for HealthLeaders.
Veterinary telemedicine is a relatively new service line, with many state veterinary boards restricting the service.
The pandemic brought to light not only the need for virtual care for pets but the shortage of veterinarians in many parts of the country. It also highlighted the idea that pet ownership is a social determinant of health.
Arizona is one of the first states to fully support the service, amending its regulations to allow pet owners and veterinarians to use virtual care without first needing a face-to-face visit.