Dr. Ron Hines veterinary advice will remain outside the protection of the First Amendmentbut talk of telemedicine isnt going away.
The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review the case of Ron Hines, DVM. The March 2015 Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision now concludes that the online veterinary “advice” Hines doled out from his website, 2ndchance.info, is not speech protected by the First Amendment.
Dr. Ron Hines“I didn't really think they'd take it,” Hines told dvm360 from his home in Brownsville, Texas. But he thinks he put up a good fight.
“People are going to be using the Internet to discuss their pets, lives, health and other important subjects,” he says in an Institute for Justice release. “Ultimately, legislatures aren't going to be able to stop it.”
The case began when the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners found that Hines went beyond giving general advice or information but was instead advising individual pet owners about specific animals without the physical examination required to establish a veterinary-client-patient relationship and satisfy the state's practice act. The board suspended Hines' license for one year and ordered him to cease his online veterinary correspondence on March 25, 2013.
Hines' lawyers at the Institute for Justice argued that the Texas practice act violated Hines' freedom of speech because the First Amendment protects professional advice, and in 2014 a federal trial court in Brownsville, Texas, agreed. However, the appeals court ruled that the practice act does not regulate the content of any speech, require veterinarians to deliver any particular message or restrict what can be said once a veterinary-client-patient relationship has been established.
Further, the court said, states have broad power to establish standards for licensing practitioners and regulating the practice of professions. Therefore, the court ruled, the requirement for physical evaluation does not violate the First Amendment.
Along with the court case, Hines' probation is now over. His license is active and, according to board spokeswoman Loris Jones, he has satisfied the requirements of the administrative order. But while Hines no longer invites people to contact him for veterinary advice on his website, he says they still do. “They all still email. They keep coming,” he says.
Hines stopped short of confirming that he continues to give veterinary advice but did tell dvm360 that “[the board is] going to have to cut my phone line if they don't want me to talk to people. I'm going to tell them my opinion or tell them I don't know the answer,” he says. “As far as what I do at home, it's nobody's business but my own.”
Still, Hines says he's done battling with the board. He won't sue them again. “I don't want to antagonize anymore. I've had enough of the Texas board and the AVMA,” he says.
And according to Jones, the board will have nothing more to do with Hines unless it receives a complaint. But Hines is confident the issue of telemedicine isn't going away. “You can't put the cork back in the bottle,” he says.
Hines thinks it will take one of the emerging human telemedicine companies, such as Texas-based Teladoc, to see the issue through the courts. “Insurance companies are backing them because it saves them a bunch of money,” he says. “I don't have the resources. The veterinarians are going to have to ride on the coattails of the physicians.”
To read comprehensive coverage of Hines' case from the beginning, go to dvm360.com/internetvet.