W.Va. passes telehealth bill to address veterinarian shortages

A sign outside of a veterinary hospital
Veterinarians like Jessica Kidd, of Green Meadow Veterinary Hospital, in Marietta, Ohio, often see clients from across state lines in West Virginia. (Sarah Donaldson photo)

Many states are struggling with a shortage of veterinarians, especially in rural areas. That can mean longer drives for some animal owners, or more difficulty scheduling on-farm appointments.

In West Virginia, some residents, especially those that live near a state border, take their pets or other animals to vets in a neighboring state. And some vets in neighboring states make visits to farms or homes to care for animals in West Virginia.

A recently passed West Virginia bill aims to help address that shortage. House Bill 4570, which passed the state legislature March 10, would allow vets from other states to offer telehealth services for patients in West Virginia.

“I’m absolutely for it,” said Patricia Holstein, executive director for the West Virginia Board of Veterinary Medicine, in March 4 testimony to the Senate agriculture and rural development committee. “A big reason is for the people who are near border states … and the people in counties that don’t have a lot of veterinarians.”


The bill establishes that veterinarians outside of West Virginia can care for patients in the state via telehealth. Vets that are not already licensed in West Virginia would have to register with West Virginia’s Board of Veterinary Medicine, and have an existing veterinarian-patient-client relationship with the patients they see virtually.

The vet would have to have performed an in-person exam of the animal within the last year, and continue to do in-person exams at least once a year to have an established relationship. In case of an emergency, vets are allowed to offer telehealth services without an existing relationship or an in-person visit within the year.

West Virginia vets

In West Virginia, there are a total of 69 ambulatory facilities — vets that offer visits to patients’ homes or farms. Out of those 69, 41 are from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Kentucky, Holstein told Farm and Dairy.

“That helps … but we still have a shortage,” she said.

Jessica Kidd, a veterinarian with Green Meadow Veterinary Hospital, in Marietta, Ohio, estimates she only does about 5% of her ambulatory visits in West Virginia. Her clients are spread out across five counties in each state.

But as far as people bringing animals to her clinic, it’s about half Ohio and half West Virginia residents, she said. Marietta is only separated from West Virginia by a short drive over the Ohio River.

A bridge over the Ohio River
In Marietta, Ohio, parts of West Virginia are just a short drive across the Ohio River away. Some people bring their animals into Ohio for appointments with veterinarians, and some vets in Marietta and other parts of Ohio cross state lines to see patients in West Virginia. (Sarah Donaldson photo)


Because of the distance, and because of how busy things can get at the clinic, it’s sometimes difficult for Kidd to get out to farms. Sometimes, especially with larger animals, she has clients send pictures or videos of sick or injured animals, so she can see what they’re seeing, along with information about the animal’s environment. It’s a good way to find out what clients have already tried, and what the next step should be.

“Sometimes … we have to figure out a way for either me to get there or them to work out getting the patient to the hospital for a better assessment,” she explained.

Kidd started using telehealth more during the pandemic, when it was sometimes difficult for even nearby clients to come to the hospital in person. But even outside of the pandemic, it’s been useful for her more distant clients, in particular. Being able to use those tools in West Virginia, as well as in Ohio, will be a major benefit for her.

“If I can get a better idea of what’s going on, and use telehealth to help clients, I think it would save everybody time and we would be able to treat more efficiently and effectively for those clients,” Kidd said.


Like with human medicine, telehealth for veterinarians can’t completely replace in-person visits. But there are ways it can help. For example, it could cut down on people having to take their animals to emergency clinics, whether because those are the only clinics open on a particular day, or because an animal owner isn’t sure whether they are dealing with an emergency or not.

“Some people bring animals to emergencies when it really isn’t an emergency,” Holstein said. If someone has an option to see a vet virtually first, they might not have to actually go in.

And while COVID restrictions are largely being phased out, there are still some people who are limiting how much they are going out in public, and even outside of the pandemic, some elderly clients may have a more difficult time getting out of the house, Holstein added.

“I feel like it’s going to definitely help people who can’t leave their house a lot,” she said.


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