National Report - When used with caution, the modern capabilities of e-mail and text messaging, now available on almost any cell phone or Blackberry, can improve and speed communication in a veterinary practice. But without appropriate limits, that practice can be damaged swiftly, experts say.
NATIONAL REPORT — When used with caution, the modern capabilities of e-mail and text messaging, now available on almost any cell phone or Blackberry, can improve and speed communication in a veterinary practice. But without appropriate limits, that practice can be damaged swiftly, experts say.
"I think it is great to have digital communication, and it helps to substantiate a paper trail, but it should be used as applicable," says Dr. Charlotte Lacroix, DVM and JD with Veterinary Business Advisors in Whitehouse Station, N.J.
Failing to follow licensing and ethical requirements of the veterinary profession when using these communication options puts a practice at risk. And only within the scope of a job description — never for personal use — should digital messaging be utilized, Lacroix says.
Multiple opportunities exist to violate standards applied to DVMs, and caution is a necessary element when opening a practice to e-mail or text-message communications.
When communicating via these digital methods with colleagues, referrals or clients, a veterinarian must always uphold confidentiality, regardless if it is legally required in the state.
"Even if the state practice act doesn't require this, it is clear you have an ethical duty," Lacroix says.
Policies must be set to advise clientele and colleagues how often these accounts will be checked, what issues can be discussed and an estimated response time to each inquiry. "Veterinarians should cautiously be willing to communicate via e-mail because they can quickly become inundated," Lacroix says.
And since DVMs typically don't charge by the hour for their services, this is an easy way for practices to lose money.
General, non-client-specific information can be shared across state lines without issue. But when consulting about a case or communicating with a specific client, you are practicing veterinary medicine and should confirm that the state practice act permits such actions, Lacroix says.
Veterinarians must be licensed in all states where they are providing services, with limited exceptions including DVM partnerships with a practice in another state or providing general advice to another veterinarian. If the licensing requirements are not met, the veterinary board can issue a sanction against the DVM. This action can be reported to the DVM's home state, placing his or her license at risk.
"You need to ensure what you are doing is permissible," Lacroix says.
When giving any form of advice or diagnosis based on a client inquiry, Lacroix advises to be particularly sensitive.
"Clients may not be giving you all the information you need to make an appropriate diagnosis," Lacroix says. Responses should be qualified that they are based on the information provided.
"And it's good practice to recommend that the client make an appointment," says Lacroix.
The best advice: Use digital messaging as much as you feel comfortable. Students or new hires should check with an employer about the policies or office requirements for handling any inquiry via digital messaging.