Veterinary medicine is a highly regarded profession, but it is not without its challenges. At some point in your career, you may face an allegation of malpractice or a complaint against your veterinary license. What does that mean? And what does the standard of care have to do with it?
According to the courts and state licensing boards, “a licensed veterinarian, by virtue of the license granted, is presumed to possess at least ordinary skills, knowledge, and competence.” Malpractice is defined as the failure of a veterinarian to use such reasonable skill and diligence as are ordinarily expected of careful, skillful, and trustworthy veterinarian. In simple terms, malpractice is practicing below the standard of care (SOC) – or not doing what a reasonable veterinarian would do in a particular situation.
Key components of meeting the standard of care are providing appropriate case management based on the individual case, keeping good medical records, practicing good communications and keeping people and patients safe. It may include the recommendation and use of diagnostic testing, current therapeutic selection, and referral when a case is beyond the limitations of the veterinarian or the practice.
Most veterinarians do attempt to practice good quality medicine. Even when we exercise the best judgment and follow appropriate protocols, however, unfortunate outcomes can occur. Unfortunate outcomes may be the result of inherent risks or medical errors. Both may lead to allegations of malpractice by a client – and sometimes these allegations can lead to malpractice claims. It is demonstrating that you have met the standard of care that can make the difference between being held liable for a claim or not.
Malpractice claims and SOC
Let’s imagine you have been accused of malpractice by a client. What happens now? And how do you show that your actions met the standard of care?
Once an accusation is made, you should submit a notice of a potential or actual claim to your malpractice insurance provider. The notice should include a “narrative” or a thorough description of the incident that includes a summary of the case, timeline of events, and interventions.
You also will submit all medical records associated with the case, including patient exams, lab work, imaging, assessments, treatment recommendations, client communications, discharge instructions, and more. The medical record also should include surgical and procedural notes. It also is important to document any follow-up care by including medical records and communications such as client callbacks.
Once an accusation becomes an actual claim, it is evaluated by the insurance carrier to determine whether the standard of care was met. If you have professional liability (malpractice) insurance through the AVMA Trust, your claim will be reviewed by an experienced veterinarian who understands the SOC and can evaluate the information you provided with an “insider’s” perspective.
You be the judge