AVMA leaders to discuss environmental sustainability, spectrum of care

Nine resolutions, two VIF topics on the House agenda

The AVMA House of Delegates (HOD) plans to deliberate on sustainability in veterinary medicine, specifically the greening of veterinary workplaces. Delegates will also talk about offering a spectrum of care, and why it is needed and barriers to implementation. These are the topics chosen for the upcoming Veterinary Information Forum (VIF) taking place during the regular annual session of the HOD, which will be held July 13-14 in Denver in conjunction with AVMA Convention 2023.

Delegates will consider new or revised AVMA policies on safeguarding care for animals with veterinarian-led teams; canine devocalization; canine hybrids; tail docking of lambs’ tails; tail docking of cattle; sheep and goat castration; sheep and goat disbudding and dehorning; and physical restraint of animals; as well as a statement to the profession on the federal veterinary workforce.

Veterinarian with client
The spectrum of care concept, in which veterinary professionals provide clients with options depending on various factors, has always been a fundamental tenet of veterinary medical practice. This is one of the topics the AVMA House of Delegates (HOD) will discuss at the Veterinary Information Forum, taking place during the regular annual session of the HOD, which will be held July 13-14 in Denver in conjunction with AVMA Convention 2023.
VIF topics

Spectrum of care is the concept that veterinary care exists along a continuum. At one end is basic, less resource-dependent, lower-cost, and usually less-invasive and lower-tech care. At the other end is advanced, more resource-dependent, higher-cost, and often more-invasive and higher-tech care. Between the ends of the spectrum, many choices exist.

Applying a spectrum of care helps to address the problem of affordability of veterinary care by offering a range of acceptable care options that are evidence based, while remaining responsive to client expectations in addition to financial and other resource limitations.

Delegates will discuss how they address their patients’ needs for care in the face of these limitations, whether recent graduates approach the concept of the spectrum of care differently than seasoned practitioners, and how state veterinary boards recognize spectrum of care in practice. 

In addition, the House will hear from delegates about what they are doing in their veterinary workplace—clinical practice or otherwise—to support environmental sustainability. Examples could include applying eco-friendly principles to facility design; being thoughtful about using resources, such as reducing the use of disposable materials and recycling where possible; ensuring responsible use of animal health products; complying with regulations for disposal of medications and biowaste; and supporting sustainable and welfare-friendly agricultural practices.

A number of continuing education (CE) sessions at convention will touch on the impacts of climate change and how environmental sustainability is an increasingly important topic

Policies under consideration

The Texas, California, Illinois, Indiana, and Nevada VMAs proposed the new policy, “Safeguarding Care for Animals with Veterinarian-Led Teams,” indicating that they believe a strong national stance that limits the acts of diagnosis, prognosis, treatment planning, prescribing, and surgery to the veterinarian—while appropriately recognizing the considerable knowledge and skills of veterinary technicians—is needed.

“Such a stance … supports full utilization of credentialed staff; and maintains the integrity of the veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) [which is] of utmost importance to the AVMA, its members, the health and welfare of our patients, public health, and the continued trust of our clients,” the VMAs wrote in their submission. The AVMA Board of Directors (BOD) recommended approval of the resolution.

Delegates also will deliberate on seven new or revised policies that the BOD referred to the HOD with recommendations for approval. Plus, they will consider a resolution highlighting chronic shortages in the public veterinary workforce.

The AVMA Animal Welfare Committee (AWC) proposed the new policy on “Canine Devocalization” to supersede the current policy. The new wording states that the AVMA “strongly discourages” devocalization. According to background materials, during the committee’s deliberations, committee members noted that devocalization provides no benefits for dogs, but has the potential to cause harm through surgical complications and masking behavior without addressing its underlying cause.

The committee also proposed revisions to policies on “Docking of Lambs’ Tails,” “Tail Docking of Cattle,” and “Physical Restraint of Animals.” Regarding the policy on docking of lambs’ tails, language was revised to strengthen AVMA’s opposition to excessively short tail docking and clarify that pain control should be used whenever lambs’ tails are docked. Proposed revisions to the policy on tail docking of cattle clarify that the procedure may cause chronic pain and that pain control should be used if tails are docked. The policy on physical restraint was revised to include statements about consulting with a veterinarian to determine acceptable restraint methods, keeping physically restrained animals under constant observation, evaluating outcomes of physical restraint methods to assess acceptability and recommend modifications as necessary, and considering alternatives to physical restraint when appropriate.

The AWC had reviewed several of the existing policies as part of the AVMA’s requirement that policies be reviewed at least every five years.

The AWC also proposed new policies on “Sheep and Goat Castration” and “Sheep and Goat Disbudding and Dehorning.” The AWC used American Association of Small Ruminant Practitioners’ (AASRP) guidelines as a reference while drafting their wording and the proposed policies were further modified slightly by the Board before presenting them to the HOD for consideration.

The AVMA Council on Public Health (COPH) proposed a new policy on canine hybrids to supersede existing policies on “Canine Hybrids” and “Vaccination of Wolf Hybrids.” The proposed changes provide AVMA members and other stakeholders with access to a single document that clearly conveys the AVMA’s approach to the keeping and vaccination of canine hybrids. AVMA PLIT has expressed its support for the new policy.

Federal workforce

Finally, the National Association of Federal Veterinarians (NAFV) submitted a resolution asking the BOD to consider issuing a statement to the profession highlighting chronic shortages in the public veterinary workforce.

According to the resolution background, a 2009 report by the Government Accounting Office (GAO) indicated that four out of five federal entities reviewed by the GAO reported insufficiencies in their current veterinary workforce to perform routine activities. These were the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS), Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), Agricultural Research Service (ARS), and the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).

Noncompetitive salaries and a patchwork of incentives were among the issues identified. Concern was also expressed about there being no multiagency effort to search for shared solutions, even though 16 of 24 federal entities employing veterinarians have raised concerns about workforce sufficiency.

The NAFV is hoping to work with the AVMA to commission an updated GAO report since the last one was published 15 years ago.

“We are at a critical point in the delivery of regulatory veterinary oversight and expertise,” the resolution states, adding that not filling these gaps in the veterinary workforce needs in federal, military, state, and county government agencies brings significant health and economic risk.