New bill allows Florida veterinarians to practice telehealth

Owners and their pets in Florida now have another way to access veterinary care, thanks to a newly enacted House Bill.

Effective July 1, 2024, the Providing Equity in Telehealth Services (PETS) Act (House Bill 849) allows veterinarians to practice telehealth, enabling them to diagnose and treat patients, as well as prescribe medications through telecommunications technology. The bill, patterned after Florida’s legislation for human telehealth, received unanimous support and was sponsored by Sen. Jennifer Bradley (R-Fleming Island) and Reps. Sam Killebrew (R-Winter Haven) and James Buchanan (R-North Port). The PETS Act is seen to help address the challenges in access to veterinary care and the industry’s workforce shortage.

“With many Floridians struggling to access veterinary care amidst a veterinary shortage, empowering veterinarians to use telehealth technology will provide another tool for veterinarians to reach more pet patients to help reduce animal suffering, keep more pets in their homes, and extend the capacity of animal shelters to serve their communities,” says Jennifer Hobgood, The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) senior director of state legislation for the Southern Division.

“Telemedicine is a vital solution to helping pets in Florida receive the care they need. It fundamentally changes and improves the health outcomes for our pets,” says Cerys Goodall, COO of Vetster, a veterinary telehealth platform and pet care marketplace.

Male doctor using computer and talking to his colleague, they discussing working moments at vet clinic

The PETS act establishes a framework for the practice of veterinary telehealth and:

  • Defines “veterinary telehealth” to mean the use of synchronous or asynchronous telecommunications technology (occurring or not occurring simultaneously) by a telehealth provider to provide health care services. This includes, but is not limited to, assessment, diagnosis, consultation, treatment, and monitoring of a patient; transfer of medical data; patient and professional health-related education; public health services; and health administration;
  • Allows a veterinarian who holds a current license to practice veterinary medicine in Florida to practice veterinary telehealth;
  • Gives the board jurisdiction over a veterinarian practicing veterinary telehealth, regardless of where the veterinarian’s physical office is located;
  • Deems the practice of veterinary telehealth to occur at the premises where the patient is located at the time the veterinarian practices veterinary telehealth;
  • Prohibits practicing veterinary telehealth unless it is within the context of a veterinarian/client/patient relationship;
  • Requires the practice of telehealth to be consistent with a veterinarian’s scope of practice and the prevailing professional standard of practice for a veterinarian who provides in-person veterinary services to patients in Florida, and who must employ sound, professional judgment to determine whether using veterinary telehealth is an appropriate method for delivering medical advice or treatment to the patient;
  • Authorizes veterinarians to use veterinary telehealth to perform an initial patient evaluation to establish the veterinarian/client/patient relationship, if the evaluation is conducted using audiovisual communication at the same time that the evaluation occurs (synchronous, audiovisual communication); the evaluation may not be performed using audio-only communications, text messaging, questionnaires, chatbots, or other similar means; and
  • Specifies that if a veterinarian practicing telehealth conducts a patient evaluation sufficient to diagnose and treat the patient, the veterinarian is not required to research a patient’s medical history or conduct a physical examination of the patient before using veterinary telehealth to provide a veterinary health care service to the patient.

For more on the PETS Act, visit The Florida Senate website.