The fall of an Internet veterinary advice service

On March 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected Ronald Hines, DVM’s appeal. That appeal challenged the Texas rule that requires veterinarians to conduct patient physical exams before practicing veterinary medicine.

The U.S. Court of Appeals found that a Veterinarian-Client-Patient-Relationship (VCPR) cannot be established solely by telephone or electronic means.

The rejection of the appeal spells doom, not only for the plaintiff but also for Internet veterinary advice services. It is also a cautionary tale.

Hines’ motivations for practicing Internet veterinary medicine were innocent enough. Two years ago, at age 69, he retired to Brownsville, Texas, after an international career to write about veterinary care.

"My disabilities limit the amount of time I can actually see clients," he explained to US News & World. "And my situation here in Brownsville limited the availability of people who really needed my level of expertise. So the Internet was just a blessing for me.”

That blessing became a curse when the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners alleged that Hines had violated Texas’ Veterinary Licensing Act 801.351. (Hines had been providing his brand of veterinary advice for 10+ years by then.)

Hines fought the claim and lost. He was reprimanded, fined $500, had his license suspended for a year, and had to retake the law portion of the veterinary-licensing exam. He then appealed.

Hines’ next step, should he take it, is to appeal the decision made in March to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The VCPR requirement exists in most states. It is also unique to each state and must be in effect according to a state’s Veterinary Practice Act, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

States that do not have a VCPR requirement are few. They include Arkansas, Delaware, DC, Maine, and Washington.

NEWStat Legislation & regulation