Can I provide veterinary advice using video calling to people all over New Zealand? What about authorising veterinary medicines?

3 April 2020

Note: This article is meant to provide guidance under normal circumstances. We have relaxed the rules around telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic. See our COVID-19 page for more information.

Veterinary Telemedicine (VTM) can improve patient and client access to veterinary care and can be convenient. It can be a great tool provided it is carried out as responsibly and safely.
When we talk about VTM, we mean the provision of veterinary care (including diagnosis and treatment) using technology without physical examination by the veterinarian at the time.
VTM can use many forms of technology including videoconferencing, pictures, video and telephone.

In this article, we are not talking about:
  • Consultation between veterinarians  using technology.
  • Triage using electronic consultation (for example by phone or video call).
  • Situations where either the veterinarian or the client are outside of New Zealand.
VTM is a method or mode of delivering veterinary medicine, rather than a new model of practice. A veterinarian’s existing legal and professional obligations are not changed when VTM is used.

We expect the same high standard of care and veterinary practice by veterinarians regardless of whether the tools of delivery are physically or virtually based.

A veterinarian conducting a consultation either in person or via VTM technologies to a patient (whether existing or new) must take appropriate steps to achieve the traditional expectations of a veterinary consultation as defined in the Code of Professional Conduct:
  1. Interviewing the client (or their representative).
  2. Collecting and recording enough information about the circumstances to ensure the proposed course of action (including treatment) is appropriate and meets the needs and best interests of the animal and the client.
  3. Getting consent to the proposed course of action.
  4. Being given, and accepting responsibility for, the ongoing health and welfare of the animal in relation to the consultation. This includes arranging emergency care after considering the circumstances and the potential for adverse effects from, or failure of, the agreed course of action.
  5. Determining and providing the appropriate level of advice and training so as to be satisfied that the agreed course of action can proceed as planned.
A veterinary consultation will usually involve the veterinarian seeing the animal at the time of the consultation. If not, the animals must have been seen recently or often enough for the veterinarian to have sufficient personal knowledge of the condition/health status of the animal(s). This consultation is required in order for the veterinarian to be able to propose the particular course of action.

Veterinarian must use professional judgment to decide whether using VTM is appropriate in the particular circumstances. They must only provide advice via VTM to the extent that it is possible without a physical examination. In doing so, a veterinarian must consider whether practising via VTM will enable them to satisfy all relevant and applicable legal and professional obligations and meet the expected standard of care in any specific case which does not in any way compromise the safety or welfare of the patient.

Veterinarians must not substitute VTM technology for a physical examination when a physical examination is necessary.

Veterinarians cannot prescribe veterinary medicines when practising via VTM alone, unless the veterinarian has recent and sufficient knowledge of the animal or group of animals by virtue of a history and inquiry and either physical examination of the animal(s) or groups of animals or medically appropriate and timely visits to the premises where the animal or group of animals is kept to reasonably reached a general or preliminary diagnosis. See the ACVM notice: Requirements for Authorising Veterinarians for more information.

If the veterinarian has not previously physically examined the animal and concludes that veterinary medicines are required to treat an animal after performing VTM the veterinarian must either perform a physical examination or refer the client to another veterinarian for this purpose.

The act of undertaking a VTM establishes a client relationship which carries with it the expectation of providing ongoing and emergency care. Importantly, if the client that does not have an existing relationship with another veterinarian, or the VTM veterinarian becomes the ‘usual veterinarian’ for this patient, and it transpires that the patient requires face to face veterinary attention there would be an obligation to provide emergency care.