SACRAMENTO (June 5, 2023) —On a bipartisan vote of 76-0, the California State Assembly overwhelmingly passed Assembly Bill 1399 to increase access to veterinary care services via telehealth, jointly authored by Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Burbank) and Assemblymember Josh Lowenthal (D-Long Beach). AB 1399 empowers licensed California veterinarians to establish a veterinarian-client/patient (VCPR) relationship through video technology and to assess when an animal needs to have an in-person examination and when veterinary telehealth would be a safe treatment decision.
Currently, California regulations are some of the most restrictive in the country, prohibiting veterinarians from effectively using telehealth and even barring licensed veterinarians from giving simple advice and direction to pet owners through telemedicine unless the owners bring their animals into the veterinary hospital. Pet owners are forced to wait for hard-to-get appointments so that veterinarians can perform in-person physical examinations of an animal as a prerequisite to providing almost any medical recommendations. The law requires veterinarians to conduct a new in-person examination each time that an animal (even a regular patient of the vet) has a new veterinary problem, including minor and common ailments or for routine prescriptions.
Last month, Arizona joined Idaho, New Jersey, and Virginia in allowing licensed veterinarians to establish a VCPR using video telehealth. AB 1399 would similarly make veterinary care more accessible for California pet owners, especially for people in remote or underserved areas with few to no veterinarians and to those that face financial, geographic and logistical obstacles getting pets to a clinic.
“During the pandemic, we saw how effective telehealth can be for human healthcare; so why not apply this working model to veterinary care where there is a huge shortage?” said Assemblymember Laura Friedman.“Telehealth is a proven, safe means for delivering care. I’m pleased so many of my colleagues agree that we can prevent thousands of animals from needlessly suffering.”
“The pandemic accelerated our thinking on how we access healthcare and that experience has proven that not all medicine needs to be practiced in-person,” said Assemblymember Josh Lowenthal. “I am proud to be a joint author on AB 1399, which takes what we learned from the pandemic and expands telehealth access to veterinary medicine. Expanding access to telemedicine is particularly important for humans and animals that live in rural locations, lack access to transportation or have other mobility issues. As we face a statewide shortage of veterinarians, the virtual house call is an excellent option for our pets to improve access to healthcare, when deemed appropriate by an attending veterinarian.”
“Today’s strong Assembly vote is a major step in the right direction for animal welfare in California, said Dr. Gary Weitzman, president and CEO, San Diego Humane Society. “For animal shelters without veterinarians on staff, third-party veterinarians may be able to provide valuable, life-saving services through telehealth.”
“California’s outdated veterinary regulations are hindering access to veterinary care and we are thrilled that the State Assembly took action to address this by passing AB 1399, which will help reduce animal suffering, address financial and logistical barriers to veterinary care, keep pets in their homes, and extend the capacity of animal shelters to serve animals and their communities,” said Brittany Benesi, Senior Director of State Legislation for the ASPCA’s western division. “We are grateful to Assemblymembers Friedman and Lowenthal for their leadership on this issue and we urge the State Senate to pass AB 1399 to enable veterinarians to use technology to protect the pets that need it most.”
“California is facing a critical and urgent shortage of trained veterinarians, and as a result, our state’s most vulnerable animals are suffering needlessly because of lack of access to care,” said Dr. Jennifer Scarlett, CEO of the San Francisco SPCA. “Telemedicine is accepted in human medicine and proven to be beneficial and effective. AB 1399 will allow veterinary telemedicine practices to help fill a critical service gap and give California pet owners cost-effective, convenient and timely access to licensed veterinarians. It is past time for the veterinary profession to modernize and address the care gap.”
Top Three Reasons Why Veterinary Telehealth is Needed:
- California’s Veterinary Care Accessibility Score has a failing grade of 47 out of 100, according to the Access to Veterinary Care Project.
- Nearly one third (50 million) of the nation’s pets don’t see a veterinarian once a year, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
- According to a study from Banfield Pet Hospital, an estimated 75 million pets in the U.S. could be without veterinary care by 2030 if we do not update our approach to providing these services.
Finally, an added bonus of telehealth: Veterinary exams are stressful for most dogs and cats. In the clinic environment, pets are frequently separated from their owners for exams, and, in many cases, the separation results in even greater stress. This can mask issues that led pet owners to seek care in the first place.