AVMA coverage: State boards and standards of care


A veterinary specialist asks tough questions and offers advice to practitioners on good habits to survive licensing board investigations.

At the AVMA conference in Seattle this week, Diane Monsein Levitan, VMD, Dipl. ACVIM, shared her experiences as a specialist on the state board in New York and outlined the process the board takes in handling complaints. During the session, she posed big questions: Should standards of care differ by locality, economic means, or population density? Should interns be held to a different standard?

Questions about standards of care come into play every time board members decide whether a practitioner acted appropriately. And often, says Dr. Levitan, it's not clear from the record what services the veterinarian offered or didn't offer the client and whether the pet owner refused.

The only way to evaluate a case is by reviewing the medical record, she says. And the number one issue for which practitioners are sanctioned, she says, is failing to maintain adequate patient records. This is often not the original charge. But when it's not clear what exactly transpired, it is clear that the record is not sufficient.

She recommends these steps to avoid complaints and protect yourself if you are investigated:

> Stay current by attending regular continuing education.

> Maintain complete medical records.

> Learn how to admit a mistake to clients when necessary. You don't lose your license for making a mistake, she says. You lose your license when you can't effectively communicate about difficult issues with clients.

> Join professional groups and organizations and exchange information with peers.

> Seek legal counsel if you're investigated, and be an active participant in the process. Your reputation and even your livelihood are at stake.

> Maintain insurance.

Dr. Levitan would like to see the process change to be more focused on reforming practitioners' habits rather than punitive action. She says the profession also needs to develop clearer standards of care, so veterinarians can feel confident that they're in compliance.

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