AAVSB Revises Practice Act Model for Referrals to Chiropractors, Physical Therapists

Client demand for veterinary chiropractic and physical therapy services have prompted changes to veterinary practice acts in Nevada and Oklahoma. And in September, the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB) revised its model practice act to provide state boards with optional language to address the issue.

The model was accepted by the AAVSB board at a time when a growing number of veterinarians are fielding client-requested referrals to chiropractors and physical therapists, said AAVSB sources. In North Carolina several physical therapists and chiropractors have been prosecuted by the state board for unlicensed practice on animals; while other states, such as Colorado, have drafted communication protocols for complementary professionals.

“We tried to offer a solution before it got to be a bad problem,” said Charlotte Ronan, AAVSB executive director, referring to an anticipated national demand for services and the lack of streamlined state regulations for the alternative modalities.

The Collaborative Practice Model for Animal Chiropractic/Animal Physical Therapy, which was based on the Nevada Practice Act, is intended to protect veterinarians from liability and to preempt the unlicensed practice of veterinary medicine, Ronan said. It does not require veterinarians to supervise services, but it does require physical therapists and chiropractors to provide referring physicians with progress reports within 24 hours of a visit, and gives veterinary boards control over certification.

An informal AAVSB survey showed that practice act verbiage pertaining to chiropractic and physical therapy services varies dramatically. Some practice acts do not address the modalities at all while others require veterinary supervision of treatments, and a few describe the services as the unlicensed practice of veterinary medicine.

“We were alarmed [to learn that] that some professionals were practicing outside any regulatory scheme,” said Georgianne Ludwig, DVM, AAVSB president-elect, who has fielded several requests for chiropractic referrals. “We were trying to be on the front end [of this trend] and hope that the model is embraced by professionals.”

Ludwig, who plans to take a chiropractic certification course this summer, believes it is important to offer clients access to the treatment as long as veterinarians act as point-of-origin doctors. “Personally I think it’s critical that veterinarians are in charge of the process,” she added.

Paul Rowan, DVM, chairman of the board of directors for the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association, is pleased with the practice act model. “I think this is a very positive step in the right direction,” he said, “Chiropractic medicine is very beneficial for animals and it has not been readily available for animal owners to take advantage of.”

Rowan, who owned a small-animal practice for 30 years before opening a chiropractic clinic in Virginia, envisions stronger ties between the veterinary field and Doctors of Chiropractic medicine, and said that the relationship should be complementary. “Chiropractic medicine is the practice of health maintenance. We see patients every three to four weeks but they do not stop going to their veterinarians,” he said. “If my clients need blood work or X-rays, I send them back to their veterinarian. Chiropractors are not going to take over the [animal’s] healthcare.”

But many practitioners are not as confident, Ludwig said. “Many state boards would prefer to outlaw it [chiropractic medicine and physical therapy not performed by veterinarians], but personally I don’t think that’s a viable option. Pandora’s box is already open,” she said, referring to the growing number of certification courses for animal work as well as the growing consumer demand for the services. “But I wonder what veterinary colleges are doing to address this growing need,” she added.

NEWStat Legislation & regulation