Veterinary malpractice "is without question the
source of most harm to companion animals." ("Harming Companion
Animals: Liability and Damages," Henry Mark Holzer, International
Society for Animal Rights, 2006.) We have come to believe that veterinary malpractice is widespread, affecting untold numbers of pets. In many cases the pet owner never learns about the acts of malpractice, negligence or abuse visited upon their beloved animal friend. We accept the excuses given to us by vets about why our pet "didn't make it," the stories about unforseeable or unavoidable side effects, and any other information given to us by trusted veterinary professionals. Some pet owners come to realize with horror -- usually when it is too late -- that their pets have fallen victim to vet who was practicing bad medicine.
If you share your life with animals, you may want to know:
How to minimize the chances that your pet will become a victim of a bad vet
What to do if you believe that this has already occurred.
You want to keep them safe
How to Reduce the Chances that Your Pet Will Become a Veterinary Malpractice Victim
There is no absolute way to protect your vet from becoming a malpractice victim. At some point, if you seek medical care for your pet, no matter how well you "do your homework," you and your pet will be at the mercy of your selected veterinary professional. But there are things that you can do to screen your veterinarian (before selection) and then to monitor your veterinarian's performance as he or she treats your pet.
It is critical that you resolve to become an active participant in your pet's care, including doing research on your own, seeking second opinions, and challenging the vet if need be. Check the Vet's Record with the State Vet Board. One of the first things you should do before selecting a veterinarian is to check the vet's record. First, file a public records request with your state's veterinary board asking that the board release all public records about the vet's disciplinary record. Be sure to specify that you want all public records, not merely those that resulted in disciplinary action. Some states (only a few) will release information on complaints whether or not they result in disciplinary action. Others have boards that issue letters of warning or censure to veterinarians, in addition to formal license actions.
Once you get the information from the board, read it carefully, and read "between the lines." Be aware that the process which results in disciplinary action is much like a "plea bargain" in which the vet board issues only findings that are acceptable to the veterinarian as part of a "consent order." This means that violations may appear less serious than they were. For example, many complaints involving the death of a pet under questionable circumstances are cited only as "record-keeping violations."
If the violation involved patient care, we recommend that you steer clear entirely of the veterinarian. Check Online Reviews. Do any of the reviews available online (Yelp, Insider pages, etc.) contain convincing allegations of patient harm? Perhaps most importantly, does it seem that the veterinarian's business is "putting people up" to posting positive reviews whenever a negative one is posted? You can tell this by the pattern of reviews. If a negative review is followed in close succession by a flurry of top-ratings gushing about how wonderful the vet is, chances are good that the vet's office is "gaming the ratings." Such a business is dishonest, and appears to have something to hide. Move on. Check Into Their Business Practices. Once a vet has cleared the two checks above, conduct an interview with the business, and if possible the vet him or herself. Here are some important questions to ask:
Does the vet have any areas of specialization? If the vet says yes, ask if they are "board certified" in that specialty. If they say yes, ask to see the paperwork. If the vet cannot or will not provide it, contact the board in question to see if the vet is, as he or she claims, boarded in that area of specialty.
Does the vet have Licensed Veterinary Technicians (LVTs) on staff (in some states these are called "Registered Veterinary Technicians [RVTs] or Certified Veterinary Technicians [CVTs])? We strongly recommend that you take your pet to a practice that uses licensed, as opposed to unlicensed staff.
What is the division of labor? What duties are performed by the veterinary assistants and unlicensed staff? What duties are performed by licensed technicians? What duties are performed by the vet?
What is the vet's philosophy about pet food? Specifically, does he or she believe that any brand is adequate? Does he or she promote the use of veterinary prescription diets? How does he or she feel about homemade food, raw feeding, and other alternatives of interest to pet owners? It is important to find a vet that is not brainwashed by the veterinary prescription diet manufacturers and is willing to work with you should you decide to seek alternatives to mass-produced foods.
During what hours are staff members there monitoring patients? Are there periods of time when no licensed veterinarian is on the premises yet patients are being housed there? If so, during these time periods, is there a LICENSED TECHNICIAN on the premises at all times? If there are times when patients are there and no licensed staff are monitoring them, we do not recommend that you leave your pet there during those hours.
What is their referral policy? Under what circumstances do they refer patients to emergency or specialty care, and to whom do they refer? Here, you are looking for a vet who refers seriously ill patients to a facility that can provide 24-hour monitoring, rather than leaving them on the premises with no supervision. You are also looking for a vet to indicate that he or she refers to specialists rather than attempts to handle complex cases requiring expertise he or she does not possess.
Has the vet ever made a mistake that resulted in the injury or death of a pet, and how did he or she handle this? Few vets are likely to answer this question honestly, however, if the vet does answer yes, you are looking for convincing assurances that the staff were honest, forthcoming, and took responsibility.