He also counsels veterinarians on how to avoid these liabilities.
- #1 answer: Concern for rising liability expenses.
The problem with this answer as the most popular is that it illustrates a real misunderstanding of how liability will work.
Veterinary malpractice insurers are currently paying out virtually nothing on claims. While allowing emotional distress damages
for the loss of a companion animal may increase insurance premiums in the short term, they should not increase dramatically,
and will taper off as the profession adjusts.
- #2 answer: Anticipated cost to clients for practicing defensive medicine.
In an age where veterinary medicine continues to improve and greater and more complex treatments are made available on an
almost daily basis, practicing defensive medicine is something that every veterinarian in this country should already be doing.
- #3 answer: Financial repercussions if I were found liable for my actions.
Perhaps the most frightening of all the choices comes in as the third most popular response. It is very disheartening to see
this as the third most popular response in that this answer illustrates that many veterinarians responding are still of the
mindset that for some reason their profession should have a lower level of accountability than other professionals. The more
important question here may well be, "Why shouldn't veterinarians be held accountable for their actions?"
- #4 answer: The need for improved medical records and client consent strategies.
I am glad that this response did not score higher, in that every veterinarian can benefit from complete and understandable
chart notes and client consent forms. Again, this is an area every veterinarian could and should constantly strive to improve,
as it is the first line of defense in a veterinary malpractice action.
- #5 answer: The potential need to refer more cases to specialists.
I'm glad to see this answer causes the least apprehension among respondents. If need be, and the case is something you are
not comfortable handling, by all means, refer, refer, refer.
Pet health insurance
Do you routinely encourage all clients to obtain health insurance for their pets?
YES=24 percent; NO=76 percent
Would enhanced financial coverage reduce the frequency of "economic euthanasias"?
YES =63 percent; NO =37 percent
Is your experience with human HMOs and PPOs inhibiting your acceptance of pet health insurance?
YES=43 percent; NO=57 percent
Would greater acceptance of pet health insurance improve the overall quality of medical care pets receive?
YES=67 percent; NO=33 percent
Do you feel that advocating pet health insurance to your clients may detract from their image of you as a caring doctor?
YES=15 percent; NO=85 percent
Commentary from J. Edward Branam,
DVM, ABD Insurance Agency, Sacramento, who has extensive experience in DVM-related insurance and risk management consultation.
Many types of pet health insurance have been available to the public for more than 20 years. However, whereas historically
participation in these programs has been limited, the purchase and utilization of pet insurance has increased exponentially
over the past two to three years.
Take home lessons for the veterinary profession:
- 1) Pet owners are spending more money on health care for their pets.
- 2) Pet owners are looking for ways to mitigate the unexpected nature of many veterinary related expenses, i.e. illness, injury.
- 3) Pet owners are demonstrating with their pocketbook that they perceive pet health insurance as a viable solution.
Unfortunately, I find the responses in this survey to be symptomatic of the veterinary profession's often conflicting message
regarding our position on the importance of promoting pet health. The responses to each question when evaluated in total appear
to be contradictory to one another and often defy reasonable logic.
Specifically, while the survey indicated that three out of four veterinarians currently do not encourage clients to explore
pet health insurance, two out of three indicated they also believe that greater acceptance of pet health insurance would improve
the overall quality of medical care pets receive.
How does one explain this contradiction? Especially when the survey indicates that respondents also felt that advocating pet
health insurance did not detract from their image as a caring doctor. Conversely, based on their responses, I would say they
feel that the opposite is true. Not advocating pet health insurance would be a much better indicator of them not being a "caring
Then the obvious question becomes, why don't the respondents heavily promote pet health insurance? Is it because they don't
want to promote better pet health care or are their own experiences with human health care adversely "tainting" their perspective?
Only they can answer that question. But the fact remains, the answers provided in this survey seem both incompatible and disconcerting
in relation to every veterinarian's responsibility to serve as an advocate for timely and appropriate pet health care.
Just as general practitioners are careful not to offend the pet owner/guardian (their "client"), specialists feel the same
way toward the referring veterinarian (their "client").
Question 9: Do specialists have a moral and ethical obligation to educate referring practitioners when appropriate, even if
that results in criticism? (pick one)
1 percent No, if I wanted continuing education, I'd read an article or attend a meeting.
72 percent Yes, I'd always want to know how I can do better. This would never hurt my feelings or influence my referral preferences/affect
to whom I refer.
27 percent Yes, the referral letter/records from the specialist is the best means of accomplishing this.
0 percent No, my personal relationship with the specialist would make constructive criticism too awkward.
Commentary by Kathy Yerger, hospital administrator, Animal Care Center of Sonoma; Rohnert Park, Calif.
Specialists do have an ethical and moral obligation to educate general practitioners (GP's), but I'm not sure that GP's really
want that. What they want is for the client and patient to be taken care of. The survey suggests that GP's do want feedback,
and yet they don't invite that.