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Arizona Enacts Veterinary Telemedicine Law So Pets Can Get the Care They Need

May 11, 2023

Arizona faces a problem shared by every state: lack of access to veterinary care for a growing pet population. But it just became easier for Arizonans to get their pets the care they need after Arizona enacted, with overwhelmingly bipartisan support, a landmark veterinary telemedicine law that allows pet owners to access high-quality virtual care from home.

Veterinary care shortages plague cities, suburbs, and rural pockets of Arizona, so the state turned to a solution from human healthcare: telemedicine, which allows pet owners to see a medical professional using a computer, smartphone, or landline. That’s why SB 1053 amends the Arizona Veterinary Practice Act to remove its prohibition on pet owners starting a relationship with a veterinarian through a virtual visit.

A chronic shortage of veterinarians has created veterinary deserts throughout the United States. Pet owners of all ages don’t hesitate to seek veterinary advice and care, but such care is oftenavailable only through digital tools. Veterinary trade associations resist these changes, ignoring the key principle that telemedicine requires an informed choice by the veterinarian and pet owner to proceed without an in-person examination of the pet. SB 1053 recognizes this principle, while also providing safeguards to prevent abuse. A coalition of veterinary, animal welfare, and farm interests produced broad support: a 26-3 margin in the state Senate and a 57-1 margin in the Arizona House. Legislators understood that if telemedicine works for people, there’s no reason it won’t help pets and their owners.

Veterinary telemedicine requires the pet owner and veterinarian to consent to virtual care, and if either party decides an in-person visit is required, then that’s what will happen. Many pet owners lack the resources to take their pet to a clinic, and in many cases, appointments are not available. But telemedicine is a practical tool that helps solve this problem. Human medicine has shown the way, and now Arizona pet owners will be able to enjoy the same convenience. New pet owners will not face the draconian choice of returning their dog or cat to a shelter because of an inability to get medical care.

During the COVID pandemic, 19 states allowed pet owners to utilize telemedicine to initiate veterinary care with no reports of harm to pets. The Canadian province of Ontario, where 15 million people live, has enjoyed veterinary telemedicine for five years and also reported no complaints of injuries to pets. The Arizona Legislature looked at the lessons from these jurisdictions, considered the experience of human medicine, and made the right choice.

The door is now open for more states to follow Arizona’s lead.

Mark Cushing is the Founder & CEO of the Animal Policy Group and the author of Pet Nation: The Inside Story of How Companion Animals Are Transforming our Homes, Culture, and Economy.

Find the Animal Policy Group on Facebook here and on Twitter here.



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