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COVID-19 Business Closures: Veterinary Practices Are “Essential Services or Businesses”

COVID-19 Business Closures: Veterinary Practices Are “Essential Services or Businesses”
Call to action: Veterinary organizations are advocating for all veterinary hospitals and ambulatory practices to be considered essential businesses in any situations in which non-essential businesses are asked to close as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Veterinary professionals provide vital animal and public health monitoring, deliver critical medical care for ill animals, and ensure that only healthy animals enter the food supply. Photo: Sirtravelalot/shutterstock.com

The American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB) is urging lawmakers to classify veterinary practices as essential businesses and endorsing telemedicine as an important way to protect the health of veterinary team members during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The pace of events, concerns and governmental action quickened dramatically over the past weekend,” the organization’s executive director, James T. Penrod, wrote. “It is appropriate and urgent for the AAVSB’s member boards to provide guidance to and share concerns with practicing veterinarians and veterinary technicians, as well as educate state, provincial and local policymakers.”

“Considerations and directives” issued by the AAVSB state:

Proper and necessary medical care for companion animals, large animals, food animals, zoo animals and laboratory animals is a public health priority and essential to the well-being of the animal and the public. For these reasons, veterinary clinics or practices must be included within the definition of “essential services or businesses” as local, state, provincial and federal governments implement rules distinguishing between “essential” and “non-essential” entities.

During this time, telemedicine and, in particular, teletriage has emerged as an important way to support and monitor the health of veterinary patients, and also protect the health of veterinary teams. Using telemedicine can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 between people and can help conserve personnel resources because it allows veterinary patients to be appropriately triaged with only those veterinary patients that the veterinarian determines should be seen making the trip to the clinic with their owners. We encourage each member board to use the AAVSB Telehealth Guidelines when reviewing existing regulations. Veterinarians and veterinary technicians are looking to your board for reassurance that telemedicine and teletriage are appropriate and can be used in these extraordinary circumstances whether within an existing VCPR, used for remote supervision, or to address emergency situations.

It is important to remind your licensees that prescribing medications must meet jurisdictional and federal requirements.

Licensed veterinarians and veterinary technicians in each state understandably are concerned about satisfying continuing education (CE) requirements each year to maintain their licenses. To the extent in-person CE meeting requirements cannot be met due to travel or meeting restrictions, or health concerns of the CE providers and/or practitioners, then member boards should consider waiving in-person requirements and allow alternative means of course delivery to be accepted. (VetFolio is offering free CE to help veterinary professionals meet their state requirements.)

Your board may require personal protective equipment (PPE) be available at veterinary clinics or practices for the protection of staff and patients. Supply chain restrictions on PPE must take veterinary care into account. Options are available for conserving PPE and should be considered by veterinary practices. To the extent PPE supplies should be inadequate to supply the needs of veterinary practices, member boards should consider such shortages when called upon to review the standard by which such care has been provided during the time of such shortage. Member Boards are encouraged to allow greater deference to the veterinarian’s professional judgment for unique circumstances that arise during these times of quarantine and resource conservation.

Using their professional judgment, veterinarians may wish to discuss with their clients whether it may be appropriate to postpone some elective procedures while we manage our way through the COVID-19 crisis. This can assist in conserving much-needed personal protective equipment (PPE). Because the intensity of an outbreak may differ according to geographic location, coordination with state and local health officials is strongly encouraged so that timely and accurate information can guide what services are appropriate to deliver.