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Permission denied: What happens when a veterinarian lacks approval to run video
Client education goes astray when a veterinarian lacks approval to run video.
Dr. Susan Drew owned a progressive, successful suburban hospital with two veterinarians and a support team of seven. Dr. Drew believed that the secret to 21st-century veterinary success was taking a proactive approach to veterinary medicine. She had a blog, a Facebook presence and a Twitter account.
However, she felt she needed to assist her clients more when they were actually at her facility. So she decided to play videos in the waiting room that showed her staff at work caring for patients. This would give her clients a behind-the-scenes peek at their veterinary caretakers.
Several veterinary drug vendors gave Dr. Drew a diverse group of educational videos, and she placed two flat-screen monitors in her waiting room so clients could watch while waiting. In addition, she made a video of a 3-year-old Maltese named Heidi having her spay procedure performed. Dr. Drew played the “Heidi's Day at the Vet” video in the lobby, and it was received well by her waiting room viewers.
By everyone, that is, except Mrs. Smith, Heidi's owner, who received an angry call from the breeder who sold her the dog. Mrs. Smith and the breeder had agreed that Heidi wouldn't be spayed before 4 years of age in case they chose to breed her. The breeder wanted monetary compensation because Mrs. Smith broke their agreement.
Mrs. Smith called Dr. Drew and accused her of using Heidi's name and image without her permission, which she said violated her confidentiality rights. Dr. Drew said her intentions were honorable and she just wanted to educate her clients. She didn't feel she needed a signed release simply to have one of her patients assist with this education, but she agreed to stop running Heidi's spay video in her clinic.
She did, however, refuse Mrs. Smith's request that she reimburse the breeder the requested amount for violating the breeder-owner contract. Dr. Drew maintained that she didn't order the pet to be spayed at age 3-it was the owner's decision. And, she said, Mrs. Smith knew of the agreement with the breeder while Dr. Drew did not.
Needless to say, Dr. Drew lost a very good client. Mrs. Smith also filed a grievance with the state board of veterinary medicine. She claimed that Dr. Drew displayed unprofessional conduct by violating her privacy and using her dog's name and image in a self-serving manner.
The state board agreed that Dr. Drew violated her confidentiality mandate by publicly using the name and image of a client's pet without permission. They did not, however, conclude that this action rose to the level of unprofessional conduct. They issued Dr. Drew a letter of admonishment and advised her to obtain owner permission for release of any personal or pet information in the future.
Do you agree with the ruling that Dr. Drew breached the client-veterinary confidentiality mandate-or was she just the scapegoat for an irresponsible pet owner?
Client and patient confidentiality rules are designed to protect individuals from potentially serious exploitation. In the wrong hands client information could lead to invasion of privacy as well as the theft of money and identity. It would have been very easy for Dr. Drew to simply contact this pet owner and ask permission to use Heidi in her educational video.
The bottom line is that 21st-century veterinary medicine has more rules and guidelines than ever before. As the profession grows in stature and impact, so do regulations that in the past were simply understood as ethical veterinary practice. My opinion is that Dr. Drew's intentions were honorable and ethical, and the owner became angry not because her pet was used without her say-so but because she got caught violating an agreement she had made with the breeder. For Dr. Drew, a lesson learned. For the owner-shame on her. And for Heidi, well, she got to enjoy five minutes of fame.