Do You Have the Right to Choose the Kind of Health Care Your Animal Receives?
by Butch Smith
There are growing concerns and questions about your rights as an animal owner to choose the kind of health care your animal receives. Under the current veterinary law your freedom of choice in health care may be restricted far more than you realize.
Each state sets its own laws concerning the practice of veterinary medicine. Although each state functions independently of one another they have all implemented, nearly word for word, the same practice act. Let's define the "practice of veterinary medicine" as it is stated in the state veterinary practice act.
The "Practice of Veterinary Medicine" means:
- the diagnosis, treatment, correction, change, manipulation, relief, or prevention of animal disease, deformity, defect, injury, or other physical condition, including the prescription or administration of a drug, biologic, anesthetic, apparatus, or other therapeutic or diagnostic substance or technique;
- the representation of an ability and willingness to perform an act included in paragraph (A)
- the use of a title, words, or letters to induce the belief that a person is legally authorized and qualified to perform an act included in paragraph (A); or
- the receipt of compensation for performing an act included in paragraph (A)
The definition does go on to state that you are allowed to practice these acts on animals if you are under the direct supervision of a licensed veterinarian or on animals that you own, although some states are working on removing that privilege as well. To be sure of the wording of the laws in your state contact your state veterinary board and ask for a copy of the practice act. Any veterinarian will be able to give you the contact information.
Now that many of you are undoubtedly outraged by the practice act let's take a closer look at why the practice act is stated the way it is. The veterinary medical board is at this time the only agency that exists to verify an individual's knowledge of medicine and all that pertains to it. Unlike the human medical field there is no certification or licensing established for animal medical care other than that of a veterinarian or veterinary technician. The medical care of all animals has been placed solely on the veterinarians and the veterinarians have taken this role very seriously and have implemented standards and guidelines to ensure quality veterinary medicine. The scope of veterinary medicine has until recently been primarily limited to the use of "traditional" or "allopathic" medicine which primarily uses pharmacological products. With the demand for non-allopathic modalities or more natural medicine an increasing number of animal owners are seeking out non-veterinarian therapists, as the number of veterinarians trained in non-allopathic modalities is very limited. Although many veterinarians are educating themselves on the use of these new highly-demanded modalities there is often a non-veterinarian therapist available that has years of experience in a given modality and may be better qualified to practice that modality than a veterinarian. Even so, most veterinarians are slow to endorse non-veterinarian therapist for two main reasons:
- Under the current veterinary law structure the veterinarian is liable for any therapist they refer. Would you assume the liability for someone with whom you are not familiar and/or a modality you are not sure about?
- There is no current regulatory body offering standards and guidelines from which individual qualifications can be verified. Many people are claiming to be qualified in various modalities; some are very well qualified and some are not qualified at all.
In all fairness, we also need to look at the fact that veterinarians can legally practice any modality they wish whether or not they are qualified. Their veterinary license allows them this freedom. All the regulatory bodies recommend and urge that veterinarians do not practice a modality for which they are not qualified but they do not restrict them. The veterinary laws do however, restrict the practice of any modality by an individual that is not licensed or supervised by a licensed veterinarian regardless of how qualified that individual may be.
The regulation of the practice of non-allopathic modalities needs to accomplish two different tasks:
- Set standards, guidelines and regulations for the practice of the non-allopathic modalities that are not currently regulated - standards and guidelines that are to be adhered to by both veterinarians and non-veterinarians alike.
- Establish certifications and/or licensing for therapists, both veterinarian and non-veterinarian, to practice a given modality.
There is one organization being established that has set its goals on accomplishing the two above listed tasks: the International Alliance for Animal Therapy and Healing (IAATH). IAATH is working to establish standards and guidelines as well as acceptance and regulation by the veterinary regulatory agencies for the modalities that are not currently regulated. The standards and guidelines being established will set the standards for veterinarians and non-veterinarians alike. Just because an individual has a veterinary license does not mean he/she is qualified to practice any modality and at the same token just be cause an individual does not have a veterinary license does not mean he/she is not qualified to practice a given modality. Meanwhile, the animal owner is stuck in the middle wanting to have a certain modality practiced on their animal with no way of knowing whether or not the individual is qualified to practice that modality. IAATH will set the standards for the industry to follow while at the same time providing the animal owner a way to ensure that he/she has access to a qualified professional in the modality of their choice through a registry that is being formed. There will be several levels of qualifications as well as educational courses to allow an individual to advance from one level to another as well as become qualified in additional modalities. IAATH does, however, need the support of everyone wanting to protect their right to choose the type of health care their animal receives. Membership is open to animal owners as well as therapists, veterinarians and corporations. To obtain more information about IAATH write to:
PO Box 633
Ardsley, NY 10502
Article written by Butch Smith, vice president of BioScan, Inc; chair of the Legislation and Regulation committee for IAATH and chair of the Issues committee for the State Horse Council Committee.