Florida’s Shortage of Veterinarians Calls for Innovative Policy Solutions to Address Animal Healthcare Needs

I imagined playing golf every day when I retired from my position as a veterinarian on the University of Illinois faculty and moved to Florida. I immediately came to the conclusion that I preferred to spay and neuter cats and dogs.

Therefore, I perform pet sterilizations three days a week at TLC PetSnip, Inc. in Lakeland to assist avoid unwanted litters, keep pets in loving homes, and keep animals out of Florida’s overcrowded animal shelters.

I now find myself lobbying at the state capitol for urgently needed legislation to assist increase access to veterinary care because I have seen firsthand the escalating issues that Florida’s pets, pet owners, and animal shelters are suffering in the midst of the ongoing economic crisis and veterinary workforce deficit.

If Florida legislators take prompt action before the 2023 legislative session ends on May 5, they can pass legislation to increase access to veterinary telemedicine and spay/neuter procedures, two crucial policy solution switches that can be quickly turned on to help address serious issues with access to veterinary care.

Due to financial constraints, logistical challenges, or living in rural or urban areas without sufficient veterinarian facilities, many Floridians have difficulty accessing veterinary care.

A third of animals do not frequently visit a vet, and the situation is becoming worse. 75 million pets in the United States may not have access to healthcare by 2030 due to the severe scarcity of veterinarians and other experts in the field of veterinary medicine.

Thankfully, Florida legislators are making an effort to assist by presenting measures that can help solve these issues.

Legislation to grant a licensing exemption allowing veterinarians licensed and in good standing in another state to sterilize pets as unpaid volunteers, under the responsible supervision of a Florida-licensed veterinarian, was introduced locally by Senator Colleen Burton and Representative Sam Killebrew.

For retired or semi-retired veterinarians like me who maintain active state licenses in other states and wish to volunteer our skills at animal shelters or spay/neuter clinics, Senate Bill 722/House Bill 719 will eliminate onerous licensure restrictions.

P.E.T.S. Act Expands Veterinary Telemedicine in Florida

So many of the animals I spay and neuter have never visited a veterinarian before coming in for the procedure. Because of this, I wholeheartedly endorse House Bill 1117/Senate Bill 1600, also known as the Providing Equity in Telemedicine Services “P.E.T.S.” Act by Senator Blaise Ingoglia and Representative James Buchanan, which expands the scope of veterinary care using telemedicine.

Even for routine conditions and prescriptions, like ear problems or flea medications, outdated veterinary practice regulations in Florida prevent veterinarians from using telemedicine to diagnose and treat patients unless they physically examine them in person.

It is inconceivable in this post-pandemic era for state laws to require that licensed physicians perform unnecessary clinical patient exams if they believe telemedicine technology can safely treat a condition. Our healthcare system would be destroyed by such an onerous, intrusive demand because it currently faces severe staffing shortages.

But the similarly understaffed veterinary industry is being negatively impacted by present state restrictions.

A crucial instrument in our medical system for bridging care gaps and giving consumers quick access to doctors, telemedicine has established itself as a common way of providing human healthcare services. It’s time we followed Florida’s example and made safe, convenient telemedicine available to more people in the veterinary field.

Please join me in requesting that legislation be swiftly passed by our Legislature and Governor Ron DeSantis to eliminate pointless regulatory obstacles to lifesaving pet spay/neuter procedures and veterinary telemedicine care.

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