Ignorance Not Valid Defense/What’s in Your Practice Act?

Veterinary lawyers repeatedly mentioned the importance of reading and knowing the contents of state practice acts, which are frequently updated, during an annual meeting of the American Veterinary Medical Law Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association last week in Washington, D.C.

"Most of the veterinarians out there don’t perceive that the law has anything to do with them,” said Duane Flemming, DVM. “There are laws out there, and they have to pay attention to them and abide by them.”

In an environment where some state boards proactively seek infractions of code, legal professionals advise practitioners to keep updated on what is required and prohibited by the state medical board to avoid citations, suspensions, and license revocations.

"Veterinary practice acts are so encompassing it’s very hard for a practitioner to work all day and not break a law,” Flemming added.

Across the board, practitioners are cited frequently for sloppy or incomplete medical records, according to panel members, who represent veterinarians and serve on state boards. “Everybody is guilty of improper record keeping,” said H. Patrick King, DVM, JD.

In addition to state practice acts, veterinary professionals are governed by pharmacy acts, labor code and corporate codes – a fact that is frequently overlooked, said veterinary lawyers. “The tough thing is that private practitioners are expected to know all of them,” one lawyer said, referring to the various acts that impact private practitioners.

During the panel discussion on July 15, 2007, legal professionals listed the ways in which state board disputes can be prevented and gave examples of how legal professionals have defended practitioners from state board professionals who overreach their scope.

Flemming cited two cases in California where the board had issued citations to two different practitioners for issues that were not covered by the practice act. In one case, the board said the practitioner had allegedly misused the term “specialist” on his Web site. In another case, a doctor was investigated for failing to conduct a pre-anesthetic workup on a patient within a certain amount of time because he had delegated the task to a veterinary technician.

"Look at the practice act in your state, look for evidence of over-reaching, and push it hard,” Flemming said, and then added, “State boards are a good thing. They’re not dragons, not our enemies, but it’s the one entity that can take your livelihood away from you.”

A comment echoed by lawyers who defend veterinarians and represent state boards is the importance of hiring legal counsel when informed about an investigation.

"The people who cause themselves the greatest problem [are] the people who come in by themselves,” said King, who works for the state board in Kentucky. “They dig themselves such a deep hole, it’s impossible to get out.

NEWStat Legislation & regulation