The VCPR: Why it needs to be established in person

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As telemedicine appointments become more common in veterinary medicine, some states are moving toward allowing the veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) to be established  virtually, without a previous in-person examination of the animal or visit to the premises where the animals are kept. The AVMA opposes a VCPR being established virtually because it creates serious risks for patient health and safety.

Simply put, establishing the VCPR with an in-person, hands-on examination is in the best interest of animals and is fundamental to quality care. The veterinary profession has been using telemedicine successfully for a very long time, largely because it has been done within a VCPR established via an in-person exam or premise visit.

Foregoing an in-person exam threatens animal health

Diagnosing and treating an animal without previously having had an in-person visit is dangerous for animals’ health and welfare.

The initial in-person examination provides veterinarians with crucial information about both the animal and the owner. During a physical examination, the veterinarian uses sight, sound, touch, and smell to gather information about the animal’s physical condition. An in-person visit also allows the veterinarian to run any necessary diagnostic tests. Plus, the veterinarian learns about what the animal owner is comfortable doing with and for the animal.  

All of this information is critical for a prompt and accurate diagnosis and an effective treatment plan. While the owner’s observations are an important piece of information for the veterinarian, they can be incomplete or inaccurate. Owners also may miss signs of disease, for example believing some signs like bad breath or smelly skin/ears to be normal. Without that in-person encounter, there’s a greater chance of a wrong or delayed diagnosis and/or a treatment plan that the owner can’t actually follow. 

This is particularly dangerous in patients with atypical or nonspecific signs, where only a hands-on physical exam and/or diagnostic tests may reveal a medical emergency—for example, a severely distended bladder, enlarged uterus, or gastrointestinal obstruction.

Imagine this scenario:

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