The week of March 15-21 saw America wake up in flashing red lights to the potential scale of the COVID-19 crisis, and take unprecedented steps to cope, contain and, hopefully, turn the tide. Veterinary medicine engaged in policy and operational debates, and decisions, at all levels. The profession and industry focused on ensuring that governmental designations of “essential services or business” include veterinary clinics, and to preserving supply chains for personal protective equipment (PPE).
Now comes the really hard part on two fronts, as COVID-19 continues to spread at a rapid pace and human healthcare faces the threat of running out of supplies and beds, and perhaps healthcare providers.
- Can alternative sources of PPE be provided for veterinary procedures when and if governments declare that all available PPE (traditional types) be made available to human hospitals and clinics? Ultimately we won’t win an argument with policymakers that veterinary needs trump human health needs. In fact, the risk we run (already faced but overcome in one state on March 20) is that Governors re-consider veterinary medicine’s designation as an “essential service” if we claim that we cannot operate our clinics without existing sources of PPE. We must be able to assure decision-makers that (a) veterinarians do many things for pets that do not require all manners of PPE, and (b) we have other sources of protective gear to enable us to perform important procedures.
- Human medicine is shouting from the mountaintops for all practitioners and patients to hear that telemedicine is and will remain available. Useful care can be provided through telemedicine tools, and we avoid requiring people to travel to clinics or hospitals and risk exposure to COVID-19 and exacerbating the situation. West Virginia, Oregon and Texas veterinary medical boards, and the Rhode Island Department of Health, have stepped up and encouraged veterinarians to use telemedicine for the same reasons (Oregon, West Virginia and Rhode Island even temporarily waived rules prohibiting the creation of a client relationship (VCPR) through telemedicine). But a number of state boards, who will go unmentioned, along with Veterinary Medical Associations, have taken upon themselves to declare in social media and websites that veterinarians must be reminded that they cannot create a VCPR, even in these unprecedented and complex emergency circumstances, through telemedicine. Which means that veterinarians cannot treat a pet or help a pet owner over the phone, or through texts, if they haven’t seen the pet. Was it really necessary to warn trained, licensed professionals in the middle of a complex crisis, unfolding by the hour?
How do YOU think the public reacts to this stark contrast between the emergency response of human medicine and veterinary medicine? Do people really believe that America’s pets are better off with pet owners receiving no medical advice in the midst of the COVID-19 emergency because they cannot travel to a clinic, or are afraid to? All state veterinary medical boards need to follow the lead of West Virginia, Oregon and Rhode Island, waive existing VCPR requirements, and do so quickly.