Follow-up appointments and veterinary client responsibility...to their pets
Last week’s post on fat dogs and legal remedies occasioned a comment on the hypocrisy involved in prosecuting owners for negligence and cruelty when prosecuting veterinarians for similar lapses happens so infrequently.
I’d argue both scenarios are as rare as your average male calico cat. (For the record, that's about one in 3,000.)
OK so my stats may be a little fuzzy here, but given that vets comprise a tiny percentage of the potential animal cruelty offenders, it seems not unreasonable that veterinary prosecutions for cruelty are so infrequently seen. When it does occur, the media tends to take it on to ensure swift and decisive action against the individual.
Consider the case of the Tennessee shelter vet charged after video footage of his intra-cardiac euthanasias surfaced. Though I’d argue this vet deserves a professional defrocking (not forthcoming, I’m afraid), the penalties are nonetheless serious and their full extent still remain to be seen.
In the case mentioned in the comment to Fat dogs…, a client failed to seek follow-up care for his pet after a procedure. I surmise he was charged with some form of negligence.
Here in Miami this happens all the time—sans prosecution. A whopping 10% of my clients are unlikely to return for their follow-up appointments in a timely fashion.
So you know, recheck removal appointments after procedures involve more than just a couple of swipes of the suture-removal scissors. The goal is to have a look at the pet to ensure proper healing has taken place.
Sure, some of my clients take out their own pets’ sutures and some pets never even get sutures in the first place. I nonetheless require they come back for a look-see (usually covered by the cost of the initial procedure so there’s no fee for the follow-up).
This failure to follow-up situation is far worse when a bandage is involved. A broken leg, an ear hematoma, a wound of some sort…all commonly require frequent rechecks to ensure healing is progressing as planned. When owners fail to show the consequences can be truly disastrous. And too often the vet is held responsible—by the owner.
Take last week’s case belonging to a neighbor vet. She and I dished over a client’s failure to come back for a follow-up three months after the specialized procedure. The client was called numerous times. It was all documented in the records.
Finally, the groomer (yes, the groomer) called to yell at this vet for leaving the pet in such a state. He accused her of negligence and cruelty for not properly attending to the dog. Luckily, he also supplied the client’s work number through which she was finally able to contact the client.
Without batting an eye, the client agreed to come back to the hospital, though she was very angry over the state of her pet’s disrepair. Needless to say this doc was expecting the worst, wondering what kind of legal hassles she’d have to deal with—likely the result of the client’s failure to comply with medical orders.
Now, no one likes to see a pet in pain. But I daresay this vet breathed a huge sigh of relief when she saw that her surgery had healed beautifully. It was the opposite side that was suffering this time. The owner had confused one side’s symptoms for the other.
This owner had preferred to rail over her vet’s cruelty and negligence to anyone who would listen…when she couldn’t tell her left from her right—and couldn’t be bothered to make her way back for a recheck despite the obvious “complication.”
What if it had been the same side? What if a timely re-examination could’ve made all the difference? To what degree is an owner’s negligence worthy of legal redress?
Surprisingly, surgery-gone-wrong-after-home-care-gone-awry cases mostly end in veterinary malpractice suits—not in cruelty charges against owners.
I know, it’s not exactly fair to attack a client by slapping them with a charge of cruelty for failing to arrive for a re-examination visit (or not giving the antibiotics or failing to use the provided E-collar, etc.). After all, some clients simply suffer from garden-variety ignorance. And as they say, you can’t legislate common sense.
We vets have to be compassionate towards owners who don’t always completely understand us, no matter how obvious we believe we’ve been in detailing their pets’ needs and the consequences of not seeing to them. But there’s a limit, isn’t there?
It’s important for all of us to keep in mind that there are always two sides to every story. There’s often a pretty good reason why the client failed to show or the wound got weepy. It’s not always someone’s fault.
Sure, egregious examples exist but I like to think of them the same way I consider my calicos: overwhelmingly female.