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Pol stands by 'old school' approach to veterinary practice


Incredible Dr. Pol star unfazed by probation, professional scrutiny.

The life of Jan Pol, DVM, contains enough drama for a reality television show. It features professional negligence, probation, finger-pointing, proclaimed innocence and a backlash of people calling for the cancellation of, well, Pol’s reality television show.

But don’t expect to see the probation of Nat Geo Wild’s top-rated star played out on television. Pol told DVM Newsmagazine this week that his home is currently decked out in holiday decorations after filming the show’s Christmas special. The 12-camera, 25-person crew of The Incredible Dr. Pol did not, on the other hand, choose to follow Pol to Reno, Nev., for the completion of his continuing education hours required by the terms of his probation.

The case of Mocha

It all started with a phone call to Pol Veterinary Services from the owners of a pregnant 8-year-old German shorthair named Mocha. The dog was expected to deliver around April 3, 2010, according to state board documents, and her owners called Pol Veterinary Services in Weidman, Mich., several times leading up to that date with concerns about Mocha’s condition. Pol’s clinic advised them to “let nature take its course” and to call back if the dog had not delivered by April 9. (See more complete details of the administrative complaint here.)

On April 9, the clients reported that the dog was producing a brownish-green discharge. That evening a facility veterinarian examined Mocha but did not conduct an ultrasound and sent her home, advising that she should have the puppies within a couple of days. Pol says the fact that the animal was producing a dark green discharge did not concern him. “Veterinarians should see that’s normal,” he says.

Three days later, on April 12, Mocha still hadn’t had her puppies and the clients brought her to Pol’s veterinary facility. According to the state board report, associate veterinarian Brenda Grettenberger, DVM, performed an ultrasound and told the clients she did not see any movement in Mocha’s uterus. Pol was asked to evaluate Mocha and concluded that he did see movement in the ultrasound. “We saw live pups--she (Grettenberger) saw it, I saw it,” Pol says. He advised the clients to take Mocha home and that their estimated due date must be wrong. Pol says the clients insisted on a C-section. He did not think a C-section was necessary and advised the clients to wait until the dog went into labor.

The clients instead took Mocha to Animal Health Associates in Mount Pleasant, Mich., for a second opinion, where another ultrasound was conducted and it was concluded that there was no puppy movement. A C-section found 10 deceased puppies. The veterinarian, Alex Imlay, DVM, estimated the puppies had been dead at least three or four days.

The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Bureau of Health Professions Board of Veterinary Medicine found that Pol had failed to accurately read a canine ultrasound, appropriately treat the patient and to maintain and ensure that his staff kept adequate documentation of telephone calls, treatment records and recommendations to record an appropriate case history.

Despite signing the consent order and therefore agreeing to the findings and disciplinary actions of the committee, Pol defends the standard of care he provided the dog, although he does acknowledge his failure to record correspondence with the clients. “The state came in and all they found was administrative negligence because we don’t write down all the phone calls from that patient--that was all,” he says. In fact, he was surprised that the committee required him to take continued education for small animal reproduction and ultrasound techniques and interpretation. He maintains he had nothing to do with the loss of Mocha’s litter.

An accusation

More than 20 years ago Pol gave a fresh Michigan State University graduate his first job out of veterinary school. Alex Imlay, DVM, worked for Pol Veterinary Services for six months. “I learned a lot and moved on,” Imlay told DVM Newsmagazine. Part of what he learned was that Pol’s approach to medicine wasn’t necessarily his. “I left because it wasn’t what I had envisioned. You just learn and go forward. It was a long time ago.” Imlay doesn’t conjecture about what Pol’s practice is like today. “I don’t know anything more about Dr. Pol’s practice. That was 20 years ago,” he says.

Pol, on the other hand, says the two parted on bad terms then and remain on bad terms now. He says that 20 years ago Imlay was a cocky and inexperienced young veterinarian. “He has been after us all the time,” Pol says. Pol accuses Imlay, as the veterinarian who cared for Mocha after him, of being responsible for the deaths of Mocha’s puppies. “I don’t know if he botched the surgery or what but he sicced the state on us.”

When Mocha arrived at Animal Health Associates Imlay says the dog had a 103.5-degree fever and confirmed what he described as a dark-green discharge coming from her vulva. “She looked obviously pretty sick,” Imlay says.

Imlay performed the ultrasound himself and “couldn’t see any evidence of viable puppies.” Upon surgery, he says, the deceased puppies were seen to be covered in brownish-green mucus. Imlay says the dog had to undergo a hysterectomy to remove the damaged and diseased uterus. He saw Mocha for her follow-up visit after surgery and said she had recovered and was doing OK.

Despite Pol’s accusations, Imlay stands behind the care he and his staff provided the patient. “We performed our job and saved Mocha,” Imlay says. “We felt really good about that.”

Imlay says he wishes the clients would have brought Mocha to him sooner. “We probably would’ve recommended a C-section at day 65,” Imlay says. “I think that’s the minimum standard of care that anybody would do.” He says his standard of care is to perform daily ultrasounds once a dog reaches its due date. If the puppies seem stressed, he says a C-section may be the appropriate course of action.

The spotlight

Pol has no plans to stop doing his show, The Incredible Dr. Pol, anytime soon. For the past two years, for weeks at a time, the cameras have rolled in his practice and on farm calls, and members of the crew, he says, have become personal friends. They even threw him a surprise 70th birthday party. And while the name of the show was not his idea (as he is quick to point out), he enjoys doing it. “You see how many people love the show and learn from it, especially the children,” Pol says.

But it’s that educational aspect--and the fact that Pol is seen as the televised face of veterinary medicine--that is off-putting to some in the veterinary profession. Many veterinary health professionals and animal welfare groups have been outspoken on blogs and other outlets about his approach to veterinary practice, termed “old-school” by the Nat Geo Wild network.

“We have veterinarians that claim that what they see is substandard, but they don’t see anything to speak of,” Pol says. “Most of the stuff that they film is not used and this is what people don’t know.”

For many, what they’ve seen on the show is enough. While there are many comments from fans on the National Geographic Channel’s blog, there are others calling for the network to cancel the show. Feedback on the dvm360.com Community and its Facebook page include a comment from Angel W. Brothers, DVM, who says she is appalled by the show and feels it does a great disservice to the veterinary profession. Others call Pol’s approach concerning--even negligent.

Imlay says that working in the same area as Pol, he’s often asked about the program. “It’s a reality show,” he tells people. “It’s not sponsored by the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association). It’s a reality show--take that for what you want to.”

Pol is happy that his fans--specifically those who are not in the veterinary profession--enjoy the show. He says they tell him, “’It teaches us a little bit, but it’s fun.” Still, Pol upholds that the show is not intended to educate. “It’s not educational; it’s not veterinary business; it’s entertainment,” he says. “Yes, they see what we do, but they don’t see the half of it.”

Of course, some less-than-exciting details of daily practice can’t be expected to be included in a 30-minute episode. But other details, such as disciplinary action against Pol and his staff, have thus far been omitted from the show. As of press time, three of the four veterinarians at Pol Veterinary Services were on probation: Pol, whose probation will be lifted upon completion of continued education; Grettenberger, also on probation for the April 2010 incident; and Eric Gaw, DVM, who chose not to participate in the reality show. Gaw is on probation for a July 2010 incident involving a dog with a broken leg. The disciplinary action reports that Gaw failed to document drug-related information, vital signs, weight, use of intravenous fluids, presurgical diagnostics and information relating to cardiac arrest for the patient. The dog died in Gaw’s care two hours after being presented at Pol’s Veterinary Services for amputation surgery.

Pol defends Gaw, pointing again to a former co-worker. “Eric is on probation because his ex-partner sent the state on him too,” Pol says. “I’m sorry these veterinarians don’t like the way we do.”

In the big picture, though, Pol says his patients are pleased with his work and that of his associates and he doesn’t worry about his critics. “I don’t say anything. I let them blow off,” he says.

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