California bill to give physical therapists greater scope with animals stalls in state senate
A bill passed by the California Assembly and presented to the California Senate, titled AB 814, is currently paused in a committee and will not be revisited this calendar year. This bill would give physical therapists in the state of California the legal right to work on animals without veterinary supervision.
Grant Miller, DVM, director of regulatory affairs for the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA), describes AB 814 as an attempted “scope of practice expansion” for physical therapists, who currently can only work on animals under the direct supervision of a veterinarian, and within a registered veterinary premises.
Expanding the definition of physical therapy practice
This bill would expand the definition of physical therapy practice to include work on animals, Miller said. He emphasized that it would require very minimal training for physical therapists to practice on animals without supervision, and would not meet the standard of practice to which veterinarians are held.
Working to defeat this bill is the CVMA’s highest priority this year, he said.
This is not the first time such legislation has been presented in California. Miller said a “nearly identical” bill, AB 3013 (Chu), was introduced in 2018 by the same group presenting AB 814 and was defeated.
Is there a need for more physical therapy providers?
In a letter to the California Senate Assembly Business and Professions Committee signed by the president of the Animal Physical Therapy Coalition and several veterinarians, proponents of the bill argue that consumers in California need increased access to animal rehabilitation services and more choice in terms of providers.
Allowing veterinarians to refer their patients to physical therapists who practice independently would also remove any liability associated with the physical rehabilitation therapy itself from the veterinarian.
To counter the argument that consumers need more access to animal physical rehabilitation services in the state, Miller said that “all veterinarians in California are trained in the principles central to animal physical rehabilitation.”
Furthermore, the CVMA reports more than 50 veterinary practices within the state that focus solely on animal physical rehabilitation: Fourteen veterinarians in the state are board certified by the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation.
There are also somewhere between 14 and 20 physical therapists who are certified in animal physical rehabilitation and can practice under the supervision of licensed veterinarians, Miller said.
“The intricacies of veterinary medical practice”
The CVMA and AVMA have both indicated that they will defend the practice of veterinary medicine against any expansion of scope that includes nonveterinarians.
A new policy statement drafted by the AVMA states: “Animals deserve safe, efficacious, and high-quality care, and animal owners should be able to fully trust the veterinary services provided for them.”
“Scope of practice expansion by human healthcare providers into veterinary medicine is dangerous for both animals and consumers, and often overlooks the intricacies of veterinary medical practice,” Miller said.
It is unknown at this time if the California Senate will revisit AB 814 in 2024, but the CVMA will continue to actively oppose its passage if it is considered. Their goal will always be to ensure, Miller emphasized, “that veterinary medicine is either practiced by veterinarians, or under the appropriate supervision of veterinarians.”
Letter supporting AB 814:
CVMA letter opposing AB 814:
AVMA position statement on expansion of scope of practice:
Emily Singler, VMD, is a 2001 graduate of Penn State University and a 2005 graduate of University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. She has worked in shelter medicine, private practice, and as a relief veterinarian. She currently works as a veterinary writer and consultant and has her own blog, www.vetmedbaby.com.
Photo credit: © Oksana Restenko E+ via Getty Images Plus
Disclaimer: The views expressed, and topics discussed, in any NEWStat column or article are intended to inform, educate, or entertain, and do not represent an official position by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) or its Board of Directors.