Dental disaster sinks teeth into veterinarian

Article

Transparency helps avoid nasty veterinary client surprises.

Dr. Clery had owned a two-doctor small animal practice for 28 years. He didn't bother with social media-no Facebook or Twitter presence for him. Rather, he believed that compassionate, competent pet care was the key to a successful practice. He took time to communicate directly with his clients and their pets. He thought forms and releases hindered his ability to treat his clients and patients like family. Pet birthday cards and informational reminders had served him for all these years.

Fluffy Hacket, an 11-year-old poodle, was recently diagnosed with dental disease. Ms. Hacket was distressed at the news, but Dr. Clery patiently explained that older small-breed dogs often required dental care even when cared for by the most diligent of owners. He told Ms. Hacket that Fluffy might need an extraction or two, and the tartar needed to be removed from his teeth. “Will it affect his smile?” she asked. Dr. Clery replied, “Just leave things to me. I'll take good care of Fluffly.”

Once Fluffy was anesthetized, intubated and prepared for his dentistry, Dr. Clery began the procedure. He evaluated the dog's mouth and began to remove the extensive calculus from the teeth. As is often the case, the tartar removal revealed loose, unsalvageable teeth that were essentially being held in place by the calculus buildup. Dr. Clery began doing the necessary extractions. After all was said and done, Fluffy had lost 16 teeth. Dr. Clery thought to himself, “This dog is going to feel a heck of a lot better.”

Fluffy recovered uneventfully, and the practice let Ms. Hacket know that her beloved dog could go home that evening. Chief technician Lea Johns personally discharged all dental patients and allowed ample time for post-procedural questions and instruction. Ms. Hacket arrived with Fluffy's doggie coat and stroller. She met with Johns, who told her the dog had lost 16 teeth due to severe dental disease that was not discovered until Dr. Clery was well into the procedure.

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The color drained from Ms. Hacket's face. “Sixteen teeth! What have you done to my dog?” she shouted. She'd been prepared for the loss of a tooth or two, but 16 was unbelievable. “Why didn't the doctor call me so that I could participate in the decision?” she asked. At this point Dr. Clery came in to speak with Ms. Hacket and explained the necessity of the extractions. But the client was inconsolable. “You never told me what you might have to do. You could have consulted with me before pulling all those teeth,” she said.

She went on to say that the actions of the practice were unforgiveable. “You have not heard the end of this, Dr. Clery,” she said. She and Fluffy exited the office in a huff.

Soon afterward, Dr. Clery received a notice from an attorney as well as a letter of inquiry from his state board. He was upset at this turn of events but confident that he'd done the right thing. He believed the patient's well-being and medical needs prevented him from stepping away during the procedure to call the pet owner. In addition, he had informed Ms. Hacket of the dental disease and she'd agreed with his request to “to leave things to me” to take care of. The state board wrestled with the case but concluded that Dr. Clery had not violated any state practice statues.

The civil action did not end as well-Dr. Clery's insurance carrier agreed to settle a significant amount of money on Ms. Hacket. Dr. Clery wrote off the whole series of events as the result of an extreme overreaction from a pet owner and ultimately believed he'd done his best for the dog in spite of the chaos Ms. Hacket created.

Do you agree with Dr. Clery?

Rosenberg's response

Never forget that there is always a pet owner attached to the patient. The clinician is always caring for both the owner and the pet. In this case, Dr. Clery forgot that the owner was part of the treatment protocol. When he discovered that many extractions were necessary, he should have called and consulted with the owner. In addition, he should have presented an informative release form for Ms. Hacket to sign so that everyone was aware of the agreed-upon medical care. Forms and releases do not prevent a veterinarian from treating his clients and patients like family, but rather it offers the courtesy of written documentation for all to consider. This assists in a complete understanding of the pet's care.

Dr. Clery was well-intentioned, but he was wrong. “Just leave it to me” was a statement made by doctors years ago when propriety dictated that a doctor never be challenged. In this day and age, honesty and transparency are the secret to quality pet care and satisfied clients.

 

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