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When pets are here but nobody's home

Article

Clients need to know if stable hospitalized patients will be unattended at night.

Clients need to know if stable hospitalized patients will be unattended at night.

Keeping hospitalized pets in your clinic after hours without technical supervision is an important legal issue for a veterinary practice. The reason is obvious. It's not that these pets are unsafe—you've fed and watered them and made sure they were secure and stable when you left. The issue is what happens if a pet dies or gets sick or hurt overnight because of something that could've been prevented if a team member had been present.

Dr. Karl Salzsieder

Because of this potential liability, you need to inform clients very specifically. Be sure to carefully explain to them that:

  • Their pet will be unattended overnight.
  • To the best of your knowledge, the pet is stable. But if something unforeseen happens, no one will be on hand to deal with it.
  • You refer pets in need of intensive care each evening to an emergency or 24-hour clinic.

If you use a form to obtain client consent, don't rely on it to speak for itself. Personally explain the after-hours lack of supervision, offer your assessment that the pet doesn't need intensive care, and note in the record that the client has given approval and is willing to take the extra risk.

If there's an emergency hospital nearby, consider posting a sign in each exam room explaining that, to provide better care, you refer overnight intensive-care patients to the all-night clinic and then take them back in the morning. Keep in mind, though, that signs aren't enough. Make sure you or a team member explains your policies for these pets.

The bulk of obtaining informed consent is informing the pet owner adequately of the risk. Only the client can authorize the pet to stay in your hospital or waive the recommendation by you or your staff to move the pet to an overnight facility. All the forms in the world are only as good as the information your hospital team discussed with the client, which then allows the client to make an informed decision.

Dr. Karl Salzsieder, JD, is a consultant for Salzsieder Consulting and Legal Services in Kelso, Wash., and a member of the Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board.

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