A veterinarian is suing the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (TBVME) on grounds that the board violated his first amendment right to free speech when it revoked his license thus preventing him from providing remote veterinary services vial telephone and the internet.

Conor Beck, communications project manager for the Institute for Justice (IJ), said Ron Hines, DVM, PhD, offered free veterinary advice via a website, email and occasionally over the telephone, from 2002 to 2012. Then, in 2013, the Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners suspended Hines’ license, fined him, and required him to retake portions of the veterinary licensing exam on grounds that his remote activities violate state law.

“Section 801.351, Texas Occupations Code, requires an in-person examination of the animal or appropriate visits to the premises on which the animal is kept to establish a veterinarian-client-patient relationship,” said Michelle Griffin, general counsel for the TBVME.

Hines subsequently shut down his website and discontinued his remote activities. However, later that year, IJ lawyers filed a complaint on Hines behalf in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas alleging that the TBVME violated his first amendment right of free speech. The court ruled that Hines’ advice was part of an occupation and, therefore, not protected under the First Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned that, however, when they ruled that the first amendment does protect those who speak professionally and that states may not censor them without a compelling reason.

Then, in October, Hines filed another complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas alleging that the TBVME violated his right to free speech under the first amendment.

Griffin declined comment on the ongoing litigation.

While that case is pending, state regulatory agencies across the country are grappling with telemedicine’s development and how veterinarians and their clients are using it, said Tracy Turner, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, ACVSMR, of Turner Equine Sports Medicine and Surgery, in Stillwater, Minnesota, who chaired a group that authored the American Association of Equine Practitioners’ white paper on telehealth.

Turner said veterinarians already routinely share information such as photographs and radiographs and seek colleagues’ opinions via cell phone and e-mail but only after they have conducted hands-on examinations.

“Some of this has been going on for years,” he said. “But first you have to examine the horse.”

And while telemedicine will never replace hand-on examinations, technology use is forcing both veterinarians and regulators to ponder other issues, including veterinarian/client trust and liability.

“Telehealth opens up a big, beautiful world and the potential and the good that can be done is limitless; but, at the end of the day, I believe bad advice is worse than no advice,” Turner said. “Regulations may change in the future, but in the meantime, the rules are the rules.”