Beware the board: 6 tips to survive a state inquiry

Beware the board: 6 tips to survive a state inquiry

A veterinarian's version of a horror story is a state board inquiry. But trust us, you can escape alive.
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Sep 08, 2016

Dr. Horvath has been in veterinary practice for 28 years. Over that time, his namesake Horvath Animal Hospital has gone from a single-practitioner clinic to a well-respected five-doctor hospital.

One of the hospital's associate veterinarians, Dr. Jenna Kirke, recently received a letter from the state board of veterinary medical examiners. She was asked to respond to a complaint by a client. She was to send all relevant medical records to the board, along with a written response to the client complaint.

Dr. Kirke was shaken. She had always considered herself diligent and professional. She read the complaint and believed she had done everything possible to assist the pet and the client in this situation.

A trusted advisor

Coincidentally, Dr. Horvath had served on the state board for 10 years. Dr. Kirke went to him for some advice, asking for any tips to respond to a board inquiry. She was confident of her factual response but wanted to know about any specific protocols involved in communicating with the state board.

Dr. Horvath stressed how imperative it was to be honest and truthful in all responses. Based on his experiences as a board member, he gave Dr. Kirke the following suggestions:

1. Keep the narrative response to one typewritten page in length.

2. Maintain a clinical and professional—not aggressive—tone in the narrative. Also, when possible, abstain from editorial comments.

3. Be sure all submitted medical records are in order and meet state practice act requirements for medical recordkeeping.

4. Be prompt when responding to a board inquiry. Late submissions are frowned upon and can be perceived as a passive-aggressive gesture.

5. If you must appear in person before the board, bring legal counsel. When you appear before the board, they will have legal counsel present (in the form of a deputy attorney general). Legal representation is actually encouraged by many boards to ensure that license holders are properly assisted during a state-sanctioned hearing.

6. Finally, remember that the board is not the enemy. The goal is to resolve conflicts between the animal-owning public and veterinarians in a fair and equitable manner.

Dr. Kirke appreciated Dr. Horvath's suggestions, but she remained upset and defiant about her circumstances. Dr. Horvath reminded her that most all veterinarians who practice clinical medicine for long enough will have an encounter with the state board—it’s almost a rite of veterinary passage. His parting words of wisdom were to take it in stride and remain diligent and professional.

Dr. Kirke incorporated Dr. Horvath's suggestions when responding to the board. The board ultimately notified her that they found no cause to take any action and closed the case complaint.

Rosenberg's response

Veterinary practitioners experience both rewards and setbacks. Difficult dogs, feisty horses, and state board inquiries can be equally stressful for a veterinarian. But it’s important to remember that regulatory boards oversee every profession and allow consumers and professionals a structured forum to resolve their differences. In the end, the animals are the true benefactors.

By far, the majority of board complaints are settled in favor of the veterinarian. After sitting on a state board for more than a decade, I can tell you that most client complaint issues stem from poor communication between the animal owner and the veterinarian. Dr. Horvath gave Dr. Kirke some valuable recommendations. The young doctor survived the experience a little wiser and none the worse for wear from her experience.

Dr. Marc Rosenberg is director of the Voorhees Veterinary Center in Voorhees, New Jersey, and served on the New Jersey Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners for 12 years. Although many of his scenarios in "The Dilemma" are based on real-life events, the veterinary practices, doctors and employees described are fictional.

State Board

In my experience:
1) Hire an attorney or file PLIT license defense IMMEDIATELY.
2) NEVER talk to the investigator or the board. Anything you say WILL be used against you.
3) Comply with ALL investigator demands. Maintain professionalism.
4) No matter how well you document, you WILL be found deficient in record keeping.
5) Client consent/refusal does not absolve one of 20/20 board hindsight and thus a ruling of deficient care or the lack of "informed consent".
6) Legal absolution and expert opinion in your favor does NOT mean the Board will find in your favor. The Board may have a practice act, but their opinion is more important. The Board is not the law.
7) !!!The board works to placate the public, NOT to honor the truth!! Dispute resolution means punishing the Veterinarian!
8) Personal bias upon the investigative team or the Board itself will not lead to recusal.
8) The Board may be made up of Veterinarians, but NEVER assume they will apply their personal experience/knowledge of practice to your case. Only the ideal is acceptable, no matter the circumstance.
9) Again, hire an attorney!! (And prepare for records courses, continuing education and a nice fine...if you're lucky).