PLEASANT HILL, CALIF. — Increasingly vulnerable to lawsuits and state board complaints, veterinarians remain on the lookout for liability concerns
in their practices, and graduates should be aware of the dangers of not working in a legally sound environment.
To aid new practitioners in their transition to clinics, Duane Flemming, DVM, JD, offers several how-to tips to surviving
litigation. Good record keeping is a hallmark, he says.
"Before suing veterinarians and complaining to state boards became a national pastime, veterinarians were immune," he says.
"We can't take chances anymore. Right now our profession is riding high in the realm of credibility and stature. But if we
keep playing these games and not doing what's right, we'll lose that status."
The following reveals ways new graduates can create sound legal safety nets for themselves and their practices:
Document, document, document
Diligence with record keeping is the best way practitioners can protect themselves from liability claims. All veterinarians
know they must record the procedures they do, but most don't include the procedures they don't do. For example, every time
a client cancels or fails to show up for a scheduled appointment, a notation should be in the medical record. If the receptionist
called and left a message on the answering machine, it should be in the record. These notations in a case of negligence can
protect the practitioner by showing that the client failed to return for a recheck.
Ways to avoid malpractice claims
Any conversation and anything that's done to the animal should be recorded even if you're just providing the client with a
vaccine pamphlet. Without documentation, all you have is the veterinarian's word or comment.
Don't rely on release forms
You can't wave away your negligence with a release form; they're not airtight and usually are a waste of time. Release forms
are only useful if they document informed consent. What a lot of veterinarians do is throw out this blanket release that says,
"I give XYZ Veterinary Hospital release from all claims and all liabilities." That's worthless and won't hold up in a court
of law, according to Flemming.
Release forms should show that you've provided the client with the information necessary and after receiving that information,
they consent to the procedure. Make sure the form identifies the client and animal specifically by name, the scheduled procedure
and the person performing it. Release forms should show the doctor has discussed alternatives and intended risk and the client
has no additional questions and hereby consents to the procedure.
Flemming recommends that you take any form you generate and run it by an attorney in your state.
Keep a clean hospital
Start in your parking lot and continue through your waiting rooms and exam rooms. Keep the back of the hospital clean and
be careful about what goes on behind closed doors. The reality: Staffs can generate a substantial number of lawsuits and state
Don't run from clients
Veterinarians, by their very nature, are introverts and don't generally like confrontation. When things start getting dicey,
DVMs tend to run, and clients interpret that in a negative way. Instead of getting a positive outcome from expressing their,
they're magnified. Veterinarians need to deal with problems quickly and honestly and communicate with the client. Don't shove
these problems onto staff, he adds.
Practice good medicine
Don't take shortcuts. Issues arise because veterinarians take shortcuts to make it convenient for a client or save them money.
Veterinarians are not the protectors of clients' pocketbooks. It's their job to practice good medicine. Failing to perform
a blood workup before anesthesia to save the client money isn't right, and a lot of problems stem from this.
Recognize your limitations