When a Veterinarian Should Call an Attorney

The attorneys at Simas & Associates, Ltd. are seeing increasing numbers of Veterinary Medical Board (“Board”) investigations where veterinarians are attempting to respond to the Board’s investigation of them on their own. Unfortunately, this is resulting in extreme negative consequences for the veterinarians that are simply not foreseeable other than to experienced legal counsel. This blog addresses the top reasons why a veterinarian needs to contact experienced legal counsel any time the Board corresponds with the veterinarian or conducts any type of site inspection.
1.  The Board is Looking for Violations
When the Board’s site inspector shows up at your veterinary clinic or when you get a letter from the Veterinary Board seeking copies of medical records in response to a complaint, the Board is looking for violations of the Veterinary Practice Act, Drug Enforcement Administration regulations, or the Board’s regulations. To know exactly what the Board is looking for and what violations it is trying to establish is nearly impossible unless you have experience in dealing with the Board on hundreds of occasions and defending the very issues involved in your case. Even the simple initial letter the Board dispatches to a veterinarian that merely asks for medical records is far from innocuous. The Board wants to examine your records for violations!
In reviewing these records, the Board is looking for record keeping violations, failure to record certain aspects of the diagnosis, treatment or plan, and is looking for medical records to provide to its own “in-house” consultants to determine whether the treatment provided to the patient was negligent. In the past ten years of Simas & Associates, we have never seen the Board demand records of a licensee for purposes of complimenting the licensee on what a good job he or she is doing—instead it is to finds a violation.
2.  The Board has Already Communicated with the Complaining Party
Board complaints come from many different sources, most of whom are consumers. In some cases, other veterinarians complain about their colleagues. Regardless of the source of a Board complaint, the Board has received and reviewed the complaint itself, any supporting documentation the complaining party has submitted, and has made a conscious decision to look into this complaint. Time after time we see cases that involve exclusively the issue of a pet owner’s refusal to pay or complaint about veterinary fees they believe to be unjustified. Even in such cases where the complaint is obviously premised upon the issue of money, the Board still investigates and still looks for violations. In addition, we have seen many times where a complaint about improper treatment of a pet ends up in a citation or accusation for poor record keeping or some other failure to keep proper drug logs. Because our legal team knows what the Veterinary Board is looking for, we are at much less of a disadvantage than a licensee who is simply responding to a letter requesting a copy of his or her medical records without understanding the potential grave consequences of the request.
3.  You are a Business Owner, Trying to Succeed
As veterinary practice owners confirm, compliance with the Veterinary Practice Act and regulations, satisfying the needs of demanding clients, and providing the best and most competent level of medical treatment to patients is far beyond a full time job. Consequently, most veterinary practice owners spend far too much time running their business and can fall victim to Board compliance issues. Unfortunately, the Board does not care about “running a business” as a defense to total compliance with its statutes and regulations – even the brand new rules and regulations recently enacted. For this reason, it is imperative to consider the Board’s perspective and “mission to protect the public” when responding to any Veterinary Board inquiry or participating in a Board inspection of your practice.
4.  You Must Educate the Board
When the Board asks for medical records or seeks to inspect your practice, there is no way around it. To refuse to cooperate can constitute grounds for license discipline known as unprofessional conduct. In fact, the Board’s standard letter requesting medical records provides the veterinarian 30 days within which to respond – otherwise the veterinarian can be guilty of unprofessional conduct. Since a veterinary licensee has no choice but to cooperate with the Board and failure to do so can have great consequences, the only mission in dealing with the Board is to educate the Board about what happened to satisfy its inquiry or investigation or to minimize the damage from a genuine mistake or error. Again, experienced legal counsel knows how to employ this strategy.
To summarize, responding to the Board is not intuitive, and the Board is looking for violations. To avoid the severe consequences of making some admission to the Board or failing to address the Board’s not obvious concern, it is essential to consult with experienced legal counsel such as the team at Simas & Associates.