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Four ways to stave off lawsuits


Legal liabilities lie in virtually every veterinary hospital, but there are plenty of ways to reduce practice vulnerability.

Legal liabilities lie in virtually every veterinary hospital, but there are plenty of ways to reduce practice vulnerability.

Dr. Thomas Catanzaro

All it takes are a few simple rules and training, says Dr. Thomas Catanzaro, a consultant with Catanzaro & Associates, Inc., in Golden, Colo.

While Catanzaro doesn't view the "gotcha" tactics of secret shopping as effective for awakening veterinarians to the threat of legal claims, he favors surreptitiously testing a staff's training in front- and back-of-the-house skills.

"Liability has a lot of different aspects; it's in the eye of the beholder," he says. "We pay close attention to training, and then we test the staff and essentially, the effectiveness of the practice's training plans."

Catanzaro offers four basic steps a veterinary practice can take to stay litigation free:

  • Practice informed consent. Most veterinary hospitals fail to spend enough time on this issue. Do not invent your release forms, but develop them using a consultant's guidance or American Veterinary Medical Association documents. Clients should sign them before proceeding with surgery, vaccinations or even discontinuing care. Ask clients to clarify they were advised about a pet's disease or condition, and recommended procedures.

  • Lock all controlled substances and make sure your practice follows Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines. Staff members can sue just as easily as clients.

  • Keep meticulous records. Conversations are lost, especially when logged electronically. Initialize everything and be thorough. Sometimes what you don't do is just as important as what you did do.

  • Be friendly to clients and make sure front office staff treats them respectfully. Clients are more likely to sue after a bad experience topped by a rude receptionist. Honor clients with callbacks and do not ignore issues. Deal with them head on and effectively.

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