Clients sometimes ask me to “bend the rules” for them. In reality, they are often asking me to behave unethically and put my veterinary license in jeopardy.
For example, veterinarians are not supposed to ever prescribe a prescription drug without an established doctor/patient relationship.
Now, this may seem like common sense and not a harsh requirement. But I am asked to break these rules over and over again, often by good clients who just want me to do them a favor.
Sorry — I can’t bend the rules of my veterinary license.
When someone calls and says Aunt Patrice is visiting from Cleveland and Auntie forgot Poofpoof’s heart medication and can’t I just refill the scripts to get her through her visit, I really can’t.
This simple request makes me seem like a meanie. But it’s a matter of my veterinary license.
I don’t know Poofpoof, and I have no record of her medical history. If I prescribe medication and something goes wrong, Aunt Patrice could sue me. She could report me to the veterinary board, and the board would put me under review and probably rule against me.
This situation could be resolved by getting Poofpoof’s records to me and having the Poofster come in for a quick exam, and then I can refill medications as necessary.
But some folks think these license-protecting protocols are money-grubbing scams and the veterinarian is just being difficult. Believe me — nothing could be further from the truth.
Another way of solving the problem of the forgotten medications is by having Poofpoof’s Cleveland vet call in the script to a pharmacy and then Aunt Patrice can pick it up. Veterinarians are not supposed to fill scripts from other vets because we are not pharmacies. Again, another stipulation of my license.
Health certificates can also annoy clients. If they need a health certificate for, say, airplane travel, and ask me if they can just “pick up a copy of a health certificate” without seeing the pet, I can’t.
“But you just saw Dallas 2 months ago,” says the indignant client. Then I ask him to read the airline requirements. “Must be examined by a vet within 10 days of flight.”
If something happens to Dallas on her airplane voyage, I can verify that her health and vital signs were within normal limits when I saw the pet in the specified 10 days prior.
But if I didn’t lay hands and eyes on the pet (in other words, falsified the health certificate as the client was asking me to do), my veterinary license is at risk if the health certificate comes into question.
The health certificate basically serves as a legal document. So insisting on seeing a pet for a health certificate may be mildly inconvenient for you, but asking me to falsify the document is asking me to act unethically and to ignore the stipulations of my veterinary license.
Falsifying Medical Records
Yes — people have actually asked me to do this.
A common example may be for an insurance claim. Say I detect a heart murmur in a pet during a routine visit and the client has no pet insurance. To get coverage, clients have asked me to take the mention of the heart murmur out of the legal medical record so coverage will not be denied. (Most insurance companies won’t cover a pre-existing condition.)
Medical records are considered the gold standard of truth by veterinary licensing boards. Veterinarians are not even supposed to cross something out on a medical record. And Wite-Out is prohibited.
If a client ever has a complaint against a veterinarian, the medical record is the most important thing the veterinarian has to back up what actually transpired while the pet was being diagnosed and treated. Asking a veterinarian to alter a medical record is like asking her to take down her shingle.
Think About the Consequences for Your Vet
I realize most people are clueless about the potential ramifications when they ask me to do a bit of rule bending. They don’t realize they are putting me, my profession and their pet at risk. But the consequences can be dire.
The rules that vets are mandated to follow protect the pet. After all, veterinarians are advocates for our patients — their well-being must come first. That is the oath we take, and the requirements of our veterinary license support that oath.
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This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last reviewed Oct. 28, 2015.