Updated 3 April 2020
Direct physical examination of a patient by a veterinary practitioner is central to quality veterinary care. However, for the period of the COVID-19 pandemic emergency, the Board takes the view that remote consultations may provide an adequate alternative to face-to-face consultations.
Wherever possible, remote consultations should be used only for animals or cohorts of animals who have previously been examined by the practice, and for whom a bona fide client relationship exists. However, the Board recognises that during this state of emergency a veterinary consultation may be required for animals who are unable to be physically examined, unable to access their regular veterinary practitioner's services, or are yet to come under the care of any practitioner. In these instances, practitioners may seek to establish a bona fide client relationship via remote consultation if a primary in-person consultation cannot occur because of government social distancing or quarantine requirements. The Board considers that a formal written referral of a case to another registered veterinary practitioner (general or specialist) establishes a client-vet-patient relationship for the secondary practitioner.
The diagram at the bottom of this page may assist veterinary practitioners in Victoria who are considering the use of telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic state of emergency.
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Therefore, the Board recommends that veterinary practitioners plan ahead, in collaboration with neighbouring practitioners, to ensure continuity of care for their animal patients.
It is the Board’s view that remote consultations may be used to provide general advice or health information and to undertake some general triage to determine the urgency or need for immediate referral to a veterinary practitioner for direct care. The Board reminds practitioners that they must exercise caution in offering any presumptive diagnoses, prognoses and therapeutic recommendations remotely, and must clearly communicate any limitations in doing so and alternative options to the owner.
Where there is any element of doubt as to whether telemedicine is appropriate or adequate for a particular case, the Board recommends that the veterinary practitioner consult with another veterinary practitioner and record their peer’s opinion in the medical record.
When viewing professional conduct during the state of emergency, the Board notes the exceptional circumstances in which veterinary practitioners are operating, in order to prioritise both human and animal health and safety. Decisions made by veterinary practitioners, including the provision of telemedicine services, should be guided by current information and must be documented and justifiable, based on current restrictions and the professional standards expected by their peers and the public.
Additional source: AVA Telemedicine Policy (March 2020).
If you have questions about prescription and supply of medicines after reading the information below, please direct them to the Office of Medicines and Poisons Regulation (Victorian Department of Health and Human Services).
To ensure that animals – whether examined physically or remotely – are satisfactorily “under the practitioner’s care”, the owner or their authorised agent must give the veterinary practitioner consent and responsibility for the animal or cohort’s health. There must be evidence of the practitioner personally having contact (physical or via technology) with the animal, or group of co-managed animals, for diagnostic and treatment purposes and of assuming responsibility for their diagnosis, treatment and outcome.
Where a veterinary practitioner provides services to a group of animals, the practitioner should conduct an epidemiological investigation to identify risk factors for disease. This could include (but is not limited to) nutrition, housing, movement, preventative treatments, climate and geography, inter-animal and human-animal contact, prior and existing cohort health status.
Practice notes should be recorded within the enterprise's history to include salient features of epidemiological investigations, with reasons behind the supply or scripting of medications.
Prescription and supply of medication during a remote consultation must continue to be legal, safe and practical.
For the full list of matters to take into account when supplying medications, refer to Board Guideline 6: ‘Supply and use of drugs, scheduled drugs and other medications in veterinary practice’.
The diagram below may assist veterinary practitioners when considering the use of telemedicine during the Covid-19 state of emergency: