Vet telemedicine, online food ordering up during COVID-19

Digital pet healthcare, including prescribed pet foods, is becoming more popular as people try to stay home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Human virtual healthcare visits are now expected to surge beyond 1 billion in 2020 thanks to current events, according to consumer insights group Forrester Research Inc., and as more people become familiar and comfortable with digital diagnoses, they’re beginning to want the same for their pets.

“We’ve seen a significant uptick in telemedicine,” said Dr. Aaron Smiley, president of the Indiana Veterinary Medical Association, in an interview with CNBC on April 23, 2020.

Pet telemedicine existed, but now quickly expanding in popularity

Pet telemedicine is fairly new, but it did exist in some veterinarians’ arsenals. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), “veterinarians can offer clients telemedicine services as long as they have established a veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) as defined in the applicable state’s veterinary practice act.”

But on March 24, 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) temporarily suspended certain requirements (such as portions of the VCPR) in order to allow veterinarians to better utilize telemedicine to address animal health needs during the pandemic.

“The FDA recognizes the vital role veterinarians play in protecting public health,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D. “This pandemic has had impacts on many of our everyday lives and professions, and during this time we need to provide veterinarians with the latitude to expand the use of telemedicine in the care of animal; not only pets but also the animals that produce our food. The FDA is providing flexibility that will help veterinarians maintain the health of animals during the pandemic while allowing for the social distancing that is so important in limiting the further spread of coronavirus disease across the country and the world.”

Telemedicine includes prescription pet food services

Among the list of veterinary services is prescribing health-and-wellness-specific pet foods, and practices are now doing so via digital visit and home delivery or curbside pickup. VCA hospitals, purchased by Mars Inc. for US$9.1 billion in 2017, released its own set of COVID-19 guidelines on April 1, 2020, including increased access to use of Live Chat 24/7 with a veterinarian, increased use of the myVCA app to access pet medical records … and free standard shipping for home delivery of pet food and medications through May 31. Other veterinary offices are also offering free delivery and promoting their online pharmacies to purchase needed pet foods.

The increase in e-commerce is being seen in all sectors of pet food, and it seems veterinary foods are no exception. Perhaps now is the time to reinforce the communication bridge between pet food and veterinarians, in order to give veterinarians a larger arsenal of food options for their ailing furry customers during a time when everyone — animal and human alike — is feeling the strain.

Briefly: Veterinarian-related items currently unenforced by FDA due to COVID-19

In March 2020, the FDA suspended enforcement of some veterinarian-related regulations in order to smooth the path to treatment for animals during COVID-19. Among the items now allowable:

  • Veterinarians do not have to physically examine animal patients to treat them.
  • Veterinarians may prescribe drugs in an extralabel manner without direct physical examination of their patients.
  • Veterinarians may authorize the use of veterinary feed directive (VFD) drugs without direct physical examination of their patients.

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