VMA Fights State Attempt to Require Veterinarians to Inform Clients of All Treatment Options

A proposed informed consent rule for the Wisconsin Practice Act would require veterinarians to inform clients of all viable veterinary diagnostic procedures and modes of treatment options. Veterinarians, who say they already provide clients with options, are concerned that the new rule would be difficult to abide by and could make them vulnerable to lawsuits.

Leslie Grendahl, executive director for the Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association (WVMA), questioned whether a practitioner could determine every viable option. The WVMA is working with the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine to change the wording in the proposal, which was patterned after a human medical rule.

During an Aug. 8, 2007, meeting with the veterinary examining board, the WVMA used the following scenario to explain how this rule could prove onerous for doctors: A dog presents with cataracts and the veterinarian suggests surgery, explaining that without treatment the pet will go blind. After a successful surgery, the client reads about eye drops developed by a veterinarian, who claims the product is a viable alternative to surgery. Could that client sue if her veterinarian did not tell her about the eye drops?

The WVMA would prefer to change the wording from all treatment options to reasonable treatment options, Grendahl said. That change, she continued, would mirror the informed consent rule in Minnesota and would make more sense to practitioners. “How can you write a rule that has the strength of law if you don’t know what’s expected of you?” she asked.

While researching how the proposed rule would affect veterinarians, Grendahl was told by an attorney for the human medical association that their industry statute has created a passive liability for physicians, who can now be tried on negligence as well as issues of informed consent.

The Wisconsin Veterinary Examining Board introduced the proposal, which would require doctors to “inform a client of all viable veterinary diagnostic procedures and modes of treatment, including the benefits and risks of each, in a manner sufficient to allow a client to make an informed decision,” after a pet owner made several calls to the WVMA, board, university, and AAHA with complaints that a veterinarian did not inform her of all treatment options for her pet.

Grendahl explained that the client did not exactly prompt the action, but her complaints triggered the discussion. Although veterinarians agree that clients should - and do - receive treatment options for their pets, they are concerned about compliance with the rule as it is written, Grendahl explained. The issue of informed consent is an important one, she said, but this rule is too restrictive.

"We think theyre using a lethal weapon instead of a pea shooter" to deal with this issue, she added.

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