Online veterinary consultations have never been more popular, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. More and more clients and veterinary clinics are taking advantage of this remote way of working and have realized it offers many other advantages in addition to social distancing. But what about prescriptions? Can they still be issued after a virtual veterinarian visit? Let’s find out.
How is veterinary telemedicine different from online tele-triage services or online vet telehealth services?
These two different types of service can sound similar but are actually quite different in what they offer.
Veterinary telemedicine is where your regular veterinarian offers remote consultations either over the telephone, by virtual messaging, or by video link. Many clinics have their own platforms that enable this, and some are more advanced than others.
You would typically book a virtual veterinarian visit in the same way that you would an in-person appointment. You will be given an approximate time and will usually be told to allow some leeway. You (and usually your pet!) will then need to be available between these times for your veterinarian to call you. Video consultations are often more useful in these circumstances as your veterinarian can actually see your pet. This is particularly important if the problem is a visual one.
If you have booked a video consultation with your veterinarian, you will need to make sure that your pet is close by, so keep the cat flap locked, and ensure that someone else doesn’t take the dog out for a walk!
Online Teletriage or Telehealth Services
This is whereby you can book a virtual appointment with a veterinarian that could be anywhere in the world and will never have seen your pet before. This type of virtual pet care service is often used to provide general veterinary advice and online veterinarians can help you decide how urgently your pet needs to be seen by your regular veterinarian. They can often provide some reassurance should you need to wait a few days for an in-person appointment.
So, can virtual vets write prescriptions for your pet?
Your own veterinarian is able to issue a prescription for medication for your pet after a virtual veterinarian visit. This is because your pet is ‘under their care’, i.e., they have seen your pet in person previously and they have access to your pet’s full medical history. They are usually only able to prescribe if your pet has been seen by their practice within the last 6-12 months, although for certain medications this timeframe might be reduced.
Sometimes, even if your veterinarian has seen your pet recently, they might request an in-person consultation before issuing a prescription. This is because many problems can only be diagnosed once your pet has had a clinical examination by a veterinarian. Some medications might be dangerous to use if certain conditions aren’t otherwise ruled out, and sometimes this can only be done in person. Your pet also might need further tests such as blood tests or x-rays before any medication can be issued.
Bear in mind that your veterinarian has a duty of care to you and your pet and will not issue a prescription after an online vet consultation if they do not feel it is safe or appropriate to do so. There are certain criteria, set by the governing bodies of the veterinary profession, that need to be met before medication prescriptions can be issued by your veterinarian.
If you do not currently have a veterinarian for your pet, then visit www.bettervet.com to find a veterinarian near you.
What about online vets from telehealth services?
Virtual vets from online tele-triage or telehealth services cannot legally issue your pet with a prescription for medication. An online vet consultation means that they will never have examined your pet in person and do not have access to their medical history. This means that they cannot deem your pet as ‘under their care’. They can only offer general advice and help to determine how soon your pet needs to be seen by a veterinarian in person.
What types of questions will my pet’s veterinarian ask before they can write a prescription?
Even if your veterinarian has seen your pet recently, there are still several questions that they might ask and information they require before they can write them a prescription. These might include:
- How long ago the problem started
- How your pet is generally and what their energy levels are like
- If you have noticed any differences in their behavior
- Whether there are any changes in their eating or drinking habits
- If your pet has had any vomiting or diarrhea
- If there have been any recent changes to their routine or to their environment
- Whether they are currently receiving any medications or supplements
They might also ask for videos if your pet is showing a particular behavior, especially if they are not displaying it all of the time. Videos and photographs can be very helpful for your veterinarian to diagnose the problem so try and have these to hand at the time of your online vet appointment.
Virtual veterinarian visits can be very useful and have many advantages for both you and your pet. If you are having an online vet consultation with your pet’s regular vet, then they may be able to write your pet a prescription without seeing them in person. However, there are many circumstances where they will need to examine your pet in person or perform additional tests, before writing your pet a prescription. Online tele-triage vets that have never met your pet before cannot legally write them a prescription for medication, they can only offer general advice.
How long ago does my veterinarian need to have seen my pet before they can write a prescription after a virtual consultation?
This depends on the individual pet, what the problem is, and what type of medication they require. It is usually between 6-12 months but might be much reduced depending on these different factors.
Can an online veterinarian write a prescription for my pet if they haven’t seen them before?
No, they can’t. Your pet must have been examined previously by the prescribing veterinarian, or another veterinarian who belongs to the same clinic before a prescription for medication can be issued. They must also have access to your pet’s medical history.
Why can’t online vets write a prescription for my pet?
It is a legal requirement to have examined a pet in person before a prescription for medication can be written. Online vets also do not have access to your pet’s medical history and therefore prescribing medication could be dangerous. This is because they could be unaware of previous adverse reactions to certain types of medication, ongoing health conditions, or medication that your pet is currently receiving.