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Virtual vet visits allowed during coronavirus, FDA says

Shawn M. Carter

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If your dog needs a checkup, pack him in the kennel and head on over to your laptop.

As the coronavirus pandemic takes its toll on the United States, forcing businesses to shutter and people to stay home, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is temporarily easing restrictions on veterinarians to allow telemedicine and virtual visits for pets.

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Previous federal veterinarian-client-patient relationship requirements called for vets to physically examine animals or visit the location where they are kept, according to a statement the agency released Tuesday. But the restriction, for now, will not be enforced.

That will allow caretakers to prescribe drugs or authorize drugs without direct examination.

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“The FDA recognizes the vital role veterinarians play in protecting public health,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen M. Hahn said in the statement. “During this time, we need to provide veterinarians with the latitude to expand the use of telemedicine in the care of animals, not only pets but also the animals that produce our food.”

While the FDA intends to temporarily suspend certain federal requirements, it noted, vets will still need to consider state requirements that may exist in their respective areas.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, which has infected roughly 50,000 people in the country, virtual care has played a new and more prominent role in care. In response to the virus, the Trump administration has expanded telemedicine options and allowed patients with Medicare to speak to a doctor or provider by phone or video chat at no extra cost.

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The World Health Organization has said there is no solid evidence that pets can contract the virus, though Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department strongly advises that pets of infected owners be quarantined for 14 days to err on the side of caution.

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