By Alex Walters
Capital News Service
LANSING — DeLeonia Rep. Lori Pohtsky’s 13-year-old cat Delah had to go to the vet every time she got a respiratory infection.
That is, until Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s emergency orders during the Covid-19 pandemic allowed for the vast expansion of veterinary telehealth, where owners and pets see their doctors via video calls.
Meetings were easy. She said Pohtsky didn’t have to take her cat to the vet’s office every time she needed a second course of antibiotics for her chronic infection.
Those emergency orders expired, once again limiting the use of telehealth. A pending bill sponsored by Puhatski would reverse that.
“There was a huge expansion of telehealth through COVID that we found really beneficial,” he said. “Obviously, it’s a little more complicated with animals because they can’t talk.”
“Communication is a problem, but that doesn’t mean we should give up on it,” Pohatsky said.
Currently, doctors can only employ telehealth if they have established a “client-patient relationship” with prior in-person appointments.
Pohotsky’s bill would change that, allowing veterans to be offered limited care through telehealth without an in-person appointment.
“The most ideal situation is that people can go to the vet in person,” said Kevin O’Neill, vice president of state affairs at the New York City-based American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
But the organization recognizes that socioeconomic factors or living in rural areas can prevent easy access to a doctor, O’Neill said.
Pothatsky’s bill would allow veterinarians to “decide whether they want to use telemedicine or not, but they don’t have to,” said O’Neill, who lobbied for the bill.
But vets already have that discretion under current laws, said Larry Letsche of Plymouth, who was the 2023 president of the Michigan Veterinary Medicine Association and now serves on its board of directors.
Current regulations allow the use of telehealth without an in-person visit in “emergency situations.” If conditions prevent someone from making an in-person appointment, a doctor may consider it an emergency and conduct a telehealth exam, Letsche said.
“We already have the ability to practice telehealth without an exam,” Leshe said, “but it’s up to the vet to decide if they need to take the animal to the hospital afterwards to be sure.” to make sure they are being properly diagnosed.” “Without a personal exam, you can miss things.”
During the pandemic, Letsche said his organization observed regular lawsuits and licensing complaints against Michigan doctors who used telehealth.
“We’re not against telehealth. We just think telehealth has to be done right to prevent problems,” Letsche said.
Pohotsky’s current bill is a revised version of one that died in the Senate last year. It is pending in the House Agriculture Committee.
Aides included Reps. John Roth, R-Interlochen; Reggie Miller, D-Van Buren Township; Kelly Breen, De Novi; Carol Glanville, D-Walker; Noah Orbit, D-West Bloomfield; and Ibrahim Ayash, D-Hamtramck.
The previous version was opposed by some lawmakers and experts who argued that it could lead to over-prescription of the drug.
To alleviate such concerns, the new version limits the length and types of prescriptions available through telehealth, Pohatsky said.
Waiters will be able to prescribe a maximum of two 14-day courses of medication in practice and cannot prescribe any controlled substances without an in-person appointment.
The new bill also states that telehealth will only be available for “companion animals,” a designation that distinguishes pets such as cats and dogs from livestock that may enter the food chain.
The use of telehealth for cattle was the primary concern of the state veterinarian, Pohotsky said, who expressed skepticism about the earlier proposal.
The state veterinarian, Nora Wineland, has spoken with lawmakers about the latest legislation and is “reviewing it” before taking a position, Pohitsky said.