The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced on March 24th that it will be temporarily lifting some restrictions on veterinary telemedicine. According to the news release, the FDA intends to “temporarily not enforce certain requirements in order to allow veterinarians to better utilize telemedicine to address animal health needs during the pandemic.” As the release goes on to explain, the FDA needs “to provide veterinarians with the latitude to expand the use of telemedicine.”
With this temporary leniency, vets will have more freedom to continue normal patient care in some regards. But this got us wondering: What does post-pandemic telehealth look like? Will mindsets change and will vets look beyond video conferencing-enabled telehealth?
What Did the FDA Change?
The enforcement policy mostly effects the stipulations around the federal veterinary-client-patient relationship (VCPR), which is the professional agreement between the different parties. By definition, the federal VCPR requires that veterinarians physically examine patients and/or make “medically appropriate and timely” visits to the location where the animals are kept. But due to the coronavirus pandemic, government and health officials are asking people to stay home, making it very hard for veterinarians to fulfill the entirety of the federal VCPR.
What does this mean for vets?
For vets practicing via their phones and tablets for the next (possibly) several months, this can bring some major relief in terms of prescribing drugs. The FDA says it “generally does not intend to enforce the animal examination and premises visit portion of the VCPR requirements relevant to the FDA regulations governing Extralabel Drug Use in Animals and Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) drugs.” Essentially, this allow veterinarians to prescribe drugs in an extra-label manner, which means prescribing a drug for a different purpose than what was intended, as seen on the drug’s labelling.
No Physical Exam Needed
In addition, vets are temporarily authorized to use VFD drugs without directly examining a patient or traveling to its location. Ultimately, this is all in the name of #socialdistancing to help curb the spread of COVID-19. And this will help to keep animals healthy, pet owners at ease, and the food supply secure.
Expanding the Scope of Telemedicine
While these lifted restrictions are great for animal welfare and the veterinary community at this time, it begs the question: Will the veterinarians who are forced to use more telemedicine go back to old ways after this is over? Or will mindsets change?
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) defines telemedicine as the use of a tool to exchange medical information electronically from one site to another to improve a patient’s clinical health status. But it goes beyond that, stating “The AVMA encourages the development of smart-device applications, other platforms and technologies that appropriately help connect current or lapsed clients and patients with veterinarians. In addition, veterinarians may utilize emerging technologies to enhance their accessibility and client communications, and support exceptional patient care.”
Thought Leaders Paving the Way
While the adoption of telehealth technologies in veterinary medicine has been slow compared to tech adoption in other industries, the possibilities are ever growing. And plenty of people in the veterinary community are already on board. The thought leaders are eager to adopt technologies, and these are often the practitioners who have already incorporated telemedicine into their practices. They understand that new, data-based technology will ultimately bring them closer to their patients and give them more insights along the way.
One such veterinarian is Dr. Mike Pownall, a co-founder of Pownall Equine Services in Toronto, Canada, who has incorporated telemedicine into his practice and contributes regularly to the conversation. For instance, on AAEP’s Practice Life podcast, he hosted the Top Tech Tools for Equine Practice episode and interviewed with AAEP on the topic of equine veterinary telemedicine.
But while these conversations are extremely valuable in term of paving the way for technology adoption in the veterinary industry, they’re still largely centered around communication tools, for instance, using things like FaceTime to enable teletriage and teleconsulting.
Put Telemonitoring to Work
While this kind of telehealth is invaluable and will certainly become more common in veterinary practices, it’s the tip of the iceberg. In the same way that medical wearables and the Internet of Things have profoundly changed the face of human medicine, telemonitoring in veterinary care will do the same.
We discussed the benefits of remote monitoring during the lockdown, including collaborating with off-site colleagues and horse owners, and reducing trips to the clinic without losing visibility of patient health. But what does post-pandemic practice life look like? After the current crisis is over and vets return to their regular schedules, will their use of telehealth expand? Will vets look for more ways to facilitate their practice with available advanced technologies?
We’re confident that the next wave in transforming veterinary care is remote patient monitoring. The Piavet System brings new possibilities to equine veterinary practices. Using the hardware’s smart sensor technology and our advanced software platform, vets can check equine vital signs, monitor the ECG, and see patient activity remotely and in real time.
At Piavita, we like happy vets and healthy horses. It’s that simple. Our mission it to transform veterinary care by providing remote health monitoring technology to the veterinary industry. With a non-invasive, sensor-enabled hardware device and sophisticated software platform, the Piavet Solution automates and digitizes repetitive, manual tasks to help vets save time and improve patient outcomes. We are a diverse group of engineers, developers, researchers, and horse people with a passion for delivering meaningful solutions to veterinarians. We operate out of offices in Zürich, Berlin, and North Carolina. Have a question or suggestion? We’d love to hear from you.