A Texas-based veterinarian fighting for the right to dispense veterinary advice online cleared one hurdle with a ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

According to the Gilmer Mirror, Ron Hines, DVM, Ph.D., has been challenging a Texas law prohibiting the dispensation of online veterinary advice. The Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners had sought to have Hines's challenge dismissed, but on Feb. 11, Senior Judge Hilda Tagle denied the board's request and ruled that Hines is protected by the First Amendment.

Tagle wrote in her ruling that, "In sum, the Court finds that the First Amendment applies to the professional regulations at issue in this case, and that the regulations, as applied to Hines's professional speech, are subject to heightened scrutiny."

The legal controversy began in 2013 when the Texas Veterinary Board took actions against Hines, a retired and physically disabled veterinarian, for offering online veterinary advice since 2002. According to the board, Hines was violating the Veterinary Licensing Act 801.351, which says "a veterinarian-client-patient relationship may not be established solely by telephone or electronic means."

The board suspended his license, fined him, and made him retake portions of the veterinary licensing exam, the Gilmer Mirror reported.

In April 2013, Hines explained in his defense that he never claimed or attempted to cure animals without physically being in their presence. Instead, he said he examines available information and records to give pet owners a clearer idea of their options.

"I don't claim to be able to cure an animal over the internet, or that I have any kind of clairvoyant powers," Hines said. "But I've done this so long that I kind of know statistically what occurs and I try to find them the nearest source of decent veterinary care and get them there."

After the board handed down the disciplinary actions, the Institute for Justice filed the current lawsuit on behalf of Hines arguing that his right to free speech should protect him while providing veterinary advice on the Internet.

"It shouldn't be illegal for a veterinarian to give veterinary advice. That includes advice given over the Internet," said Jeff Rowes, senior attorney for the Institute of Justice. "This case will help ensure that the Internet can be used to communicate expert advice better, faster, and more cheaply than has ever been possible."

Although the current case revolves around one veterinarian seeking to preserve his rights, a legal victory for Hines could set a precedent for other licensed professions that impose rules similar to those in Hines's case, said Institute of Justice Texas Executive Director Matt Miller.

"People don't check their First Amendment rights at the door when they enter a licensed occupation," Miller told the Gilmer Mirror.

Comments (5) -

Dr. J. DeLucia
Dr. J. DeLuciaUnited States
2/15/2014 8:11:14 AM #

This can go either way. It can assist clients in seeking good, independent veterinary care or initiate a situation of distrust amongst clients by second guessing the all important relationship that a health care professional has with their patients. I would assume this DVM will charge for his advice. If he renders an opinion, than this is practicing veterinary medicine and he is doing this without the all important cexam room consultation. If so, does this mean that , if he is  performing this service in for individuals residing in states other than Texas where he may be unlicensed, is he "practicing" veterinary medicine without a license in those states? There is a fine line between rendering a presumptive diagnosis and offering up advice. In the end, on the surface this seems like yet another attempt to decimate the individual veterinary professional.

Peggy Ann Harvey
Peggy Ann HarveyUnited States
10/11/2014 6:02:55 AM #

I was so surprised when I saw this information when I Google Dr Ronald Hines.My dog is undergoing testing for cushings disease and has other problems with some similar symptoms. I have been googleing for information regrading this disease and read and reread many articles.I was so   impressed  with the wealth of information and clarity with with which he describes and explains everything I wanted to find a way to contact him..to thank him ..and then I saw these articles..His article was the most comprehensive and informative articles on the internet..Shame on whoever or whatever regulation prohibits an intelligent Doctor to providentify usefull information to pet owners. HATS OFF TO DR HINES and thank him for being caring enough to share the wealth of information that he has..My Vets have never explained anything as completely as Dr hines..  Peggy  Ann Harvey

Rick Clark
Rick ClarkUnited States
11/8/2014 11:16:59 AM #

Any pet owner; in fact, anyone with even the slightest interest in domestic animals can appreciate the great wealth of information that Dr. Hines offers for FREE on his website.  His voluminous, comprehensive articles, written in easy-to-understand language, are a remarkable achievement and an amazingly unselfish gift to anyone wishing to peruse them.  As with Ms. Harvey earlier, my canine child is being tested for Cushing's, and now solely because of Dr. Hines I have enough knowledge on the subject to be able to communicate intelligently with our vet, which will lead to informed decisions based on fact, rather than just emotion.  The only kinds of people who would be against Dr. Hines' heroic endeavors are the petty bureaucrats with their endless enthusiasm for making and defending silly rules, and the greedy veterinarians who shudder to think that someone is giving away valuable information which they prefer to charge so dearly for.   Kudos to you, Dr. Ron Hines!  Continue the good fight.  What you are doing is right, and he who does that must eventually prevail.
Rick Clark
Tampa, Florida    

andrew johnson
andrew johnsonUnited States
2/18/2015 11:13:17 AM #

I wonder if disallowing a professional licensed from doing some business online is just a way of creating a closed shop situation?
As we all know, no 2 licensed and trained experts in any line of work are equally good at what they are trained i and sadly, not all are scrupulous either.  We've read about human doctors who've behaved dishonestly and, this can be even more the case with animals because they can't tell you how they're doing in an 'obvious' way, the way a human can tell you.
So I value services like that offered by Dr Hines.  A place to double check my local vets claims and where I can make sure that the prescribed treatment and tests are appropriate.
I'd like to know how the Vet Board justifies this because to me this board is protecting the veterinarian business and not the public by trying to stop Dr Hines from advising people online.

Judy York
Judy YorkUnited States
5/4/2015 7:47:46 PM #

While wanting some information on a new medication that my Vet had suggested, I "Googled" the name of the medication and clicked on a few links, one of which included Dr. Ron Hines, DVM, whom I was not familiar with nor was I looking for.  After going to Dr. Hines Website, I was so enthralled by the wealth of information he had obviously spent years providing, that I basically forgot why I was there in the first place.  I never perceived that this  fine man and Veterinarian was "practicing medicine" or diagnosing ANYTHING.  What I saw was a man who LOVED what he had been doing for over 40 years, and took the time to share some of that wealth of information with the rest of us.  He could have written a book but he gave his life's work freely instead.  Why has this caused  such a tremor in the hallowed halls of bureaucracy?  What is the need to destroy one aging, disabled man who willingly and without malice shared his knowledge of what he knew and cared about so much?  Could it be that we could see his humanity, his concern for others and their beloved pets ... the qualities that in this day and age are so lacking in most of the rest of those whose first concern is something else?  What I do know is this:  however the courts of this nation rule on Dr. Hines, HE will be the one remembered for the GOOD he has done over his lifetime ... and the rest of you who have sought to bury him will just be dust in the wind!  

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