Beware the board: 6 tips to survive a state inquiry

September 8, 2016
Marc Rosenberg, VMD

Dr. Marc Rosenberg is the director of the Voorhees Veterinary Center in Voorhees, New Jersey.Growing up in a veterinary family, he was inspired to join the profession because his father was a small animal practitioner. Dr. Rosenberg has two dogs and three cats.In Dr. Rosenbergs private time, he enjoys playing basketball and swing dancing with his wifethey have danced all over the world, including New York City, Paris and Tokyo. Dr. Rosenberg has been a member of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Actors for more than 30 years. He has hosted two radio shows, a national TV show and appeared in over 30 national TV commercials, all with pet care themes.

A veterinarian's version of a horror story is a state board inquiry. But trust us, you can escape alive.

Dr. Horvath has been in veterinary practice for 28 years. Over that time, his namesake Horvath Animal Hospital has gone from a single-practitioner clinic to a well-respected five-doctor hospital.

One of the hospital's associate veterinarians, Dr. Jenna Kirke, recently received a letter from the state board of veterinary medical examiners. She was asked to respond to a complaint by a client. She was to send all relevant medical records to the board, along with a written response to the client complaint.

Dr. Kirke was shaken. She had always considered herself diligent and professional. She read the complaint and believed she had done everything possible to assist the pet and the client in this situation.

A trusted advisor

Coincidentally, Dr. Horvath had served on the state board for 10 years. Dr. Kirke went to him for some advice, asking for any tips to respond to a board inquiry. She was confident of her factual response but wanted to know about any specific protocols involved in communicating with the state board.

Dr. Horvath stressed how imperative it was to be honest and truthful in all responses. Based on his experiences as a board member, he gave Dr. Kirke the following suggestions:

1. Keep the narrative response to one typewritten page in length.

2. Maintain a clinical and professional-not aggressive-tone in the narrative. Also, when possible, abstain from editorial comments.

3. Be sure all submitted medical records are in order and meet state practice act requirements for medical recordkeeping.

4. Be prompt when responding to a board inquiry. Late submissions are frowned upon and can be perceived as a passive-aggressive gesture.

5. If you must appear in person before the board, bring legal counsel. When you appear before the board, they will have legal counsel present (in the form of a deputy attorney general). Legal representation is actually encouraged by many boards to ensure that license holders are properly assisted during a state-sanctioned hearing.

6. Finally, remember that the board is not the enemy. The goal is to resolve conflicts between the animal-owning public and veterinarians in a fair and equitable manner.

Dr. Kirke appreciated Dr. Horvath's suggestions, but she remained upset and defiant about her circumstances. Dr. Horvath reminded her that most all veterinarians who practice clinical medicine for long enough will have an encounter with the state board-it's almost a rite of veterinary passage. His parting words of wisdom were to take it in stride and remain diligent and professional.

Dr. Kirke incorporated Dr. Horvath's suggestions when responding to the board. The board ultimately notified her that they found no cause to take any action and closed the case complaint.

Rosenberg's response

Veterinary practitioners experience both rewards and setbacks. Difficult dogs, feisty horses, and state board inquiries can be equally stressful for a veterinarian. But it's important to remember that regulatory boards oversee every profession and allow consumers and professionals a structured forum to resolve their differences. In the end, the animals are the true benefactors.

By far, the majority of board complaints are settled in favor of the veterinarian. After sitting on a state board for more than a decade, I can tell you that most client complaint issues stem from poor communication between the animal owner and the veterinarian. Dr. Horvath gave Dr. Kirke some valuable recommendations. The young doctor survived the experience a little wiser and none the worse for wear from her experience.

Dr. Marc Rosenberg is director of the Voorhees Veterinary Center in Voorhees, New Jersey, and served on the New Jersey Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners for 12 years. Although many of his scenarios in "The Dilemma" are based on real-life events, the veterinary practices, doctors and employees described are fictional.