This blog entry is the third of a three-part series of entries regarding issues that Veterinarians face when there is a change in the practice relationship. This can be a veterinarian leaving a practice, a clinic selling a practice, or a practice that is closing. The series examines the following questions:

  1. Who owns and is responsible for veterinary patient medical records and making sure they are available when clients request them?
  2. What steps need to be taken regarding a change in the Veterinary-Client-Patient Relationship?
  3. What steps do the veterinarians need to take when dissolving the practice to defend against Veterinary Medical Board complaints and malpractice claims?

 

Settling an Ownership Dispute

Avoid Noise Attracting the Board

As mentioned in the prior post, the California Veterinary Medical Board (“Board”) will file disciplinary charges against a veterinarian who fails to clearly define the VCPR. And it is the veterinarian’s job (not the client’s) to make sure this is clear. Thus, it is paramount that if any conflict does arise, that it is resolved swiftly and in conjunction with upholding the veterinarians’ obligations to their patients and consumers.
Any settlement agreement in regards to a dispute between former members of a Veterinary practice must include an agreement that the parties will cooperate in the transfer and transition of clients and charts, and in communication with clients in order to avoid California Veterinary Medical Board (“Board”) scrutiny or liability. The following are some of the major reasons the parties must work together on these issues:

  • Any disgruntled owner who is unhappy about the transition will file a complaint with the Board and the Board will gladly investigate it.
  • There will be confusion or an owner will change his or her mind in the middle of the transition and something will go wrong such as a pet expiring, etc. Will that withstand scrutiny?
  • Someone has to house all records, even of expired pets, for three years from the date of the last treatment so they are available for the Board upon request.
  • If there is a Board investigation, all veterinarians on the chart are at risk for citations, accusations, etc. The Board never limits its inquiry to the single veterinarian named in a consumer complaint.[1]
  • The parties should agree not to disparage each other and the care provided.  To do otherwise would certainly favor any complainant to the Board or someone who sues.
  • Agree to keep clients happy in the transition, whatever it takes. Happy clients do not complain to the Board or go to court.
  • Double-check insurance coverage of all veterinarians and RVTs to make sure you have tail coverage and administrative licensing defense such as Fireman’s Fund or Hanover Insurance provide.

Regardless of how the dispute is resolved among the owners of the practice, the mutual goal is to avoid Board scrutiny.
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Steps to Avoid

Similarly, to the prior issue, in a case where the practice has split-up by way of settlement agreement, all licensed veterinarians, especially the premises licensees, must communicate in writing with the clients and make sure they know the essential aspects of the continued relationships. As previously discussed, this includes:

  1. Who is going to be their veterinarian (or that they get to choose) and who is responsible for the VCPR?
  2. Who will be competent and up to speed to provide ongoing care sufficiently to comply with the requirements of the VCPR (or even emergency care while the practice is splitting up)?
  3. Who will have the patient records?
  4. Will practice A provide care, practice B, or neither?
  5. If the client picks another practice other than Practice A or B, that the records will be provided right away.

This outlines a major issue to be addressed to comply with the Veterinary Practice Act and prevent client complaints, liability, and Board violations during the transition period of a veterinary practice dissolution or change of ownership. We base our opinion upon years of experience in handling hundreds of Board cases over the years and representing hundreds of veterinarians throughout California.


 
[1] We have this case all the time where the veterinarian no longer works at the same clinic and we cannot defend ourselves.