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No pain, no gain

Article

Minneapolis - Dr. Carl Seemann plans to appeal an administrative law judge's ruling that backs state regulators' efforts to suspend his license for not administering drugs to manage a surgical patient's pain.

MINNEAPOLIS — Dr. Carl Seemann plans to appeal an administrative law judge's ruling that backs state regulators' efforts to suspend his license for not administering drugs to manage a surgical patient's pain.

Determined to fight: "'m not going to give up. If my fight works to help other veterinarians, it's worth it," says Dr. Carl Seemann, 84.

The decision, issued last month by Administrative Law Judge Linda F. Close, supports the Minnesota Board of Veterinary Medicine's (MBVM) disciplinary action in response to Seemann's lack of post-operative pain management following orthopedic surgery on a dog.

Seemann's case is the first in which a veterinarian has faced license revocation based solely on lacking pain-management protocols, and sets a precedent for new law in veterinary medicine, legal experts say (see "Price of Pain" in DVM Newsmagazine's October issue).

Seemann, a small-animal veterinarian, practiced in northern Minnesota until Christmas 2006, when he received notice that his license was being suspended. He and his lawyer, Zenas Baer, argue that pain-management standards are unclear, considering written guidelines do not exist and protocols are only a decade old.

In addition to the appeals-court filing, Seemann plans to take his case to the state Legislature. The 84-year-old has spent nearly $90,000 defending his reputation and now wants a new law that protects DVMs against regulatory-board actions. Baer believes a three-judge appeals court panel might issue a more favorable decision.

"Maybe I was naïve to think a state employee (administrative law judge) would hold another state employee (regulatory board) accountable," Baer says. "While the ruling gave lip service to our arguments, it adopted the board's position almost without exception."

Details of the decision

The board insists that Seeman's method of evaluating signs of discomfort in an animal before administering post-operative pain drugs falls below the standard of care in veterinary medicine.

The 20-page ruling agrees with Seemann's notion that such standards are vague and acknowledges that the veterinarian regularly attends continuing-education classes. Yet the judge came down on Seemann's lack of pain management based on his testimony that non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs interfere with healing and his belief that the overuse of pain-management drugs has damaging effects. While Seemann "continues to adhere to the notion that pain management is in its infancy in veterinary medicine," his own expert witness acknowledges it as "an important topic since the 1970s," the ruling states.

Potential outcome

For that reason, Judge Close considers disciplinary action warranted, supporting the license suspension.

How the verdict is applied is up to board members, MBVM Executive Director Dr. John King explains, adding that state regulators have not received any notice of appeal.

At press time, a complaint committee was developing suggestions for remedy to present during the board's Jan. 30 meeting. Regulators likely will vote on those recommendations, King says.

Seemann remains determined to fight. He believes the ruling ultimately will be trumped by his appeal.

"Right now, veterinarians have no power to reverse unfair decisions made by a handful of people who represent the state board. I'm not going to give up. If my fight works to help other veterinarians, it's worth it," he says.

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