Prepurchase Examination Table Topic (AAEP 2011)

The importance of clear, open communication between the veterinarian and the purchaser/purchaser's agent became the overriding theme of this table topic at the 2011 American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) Annual Meeting, held Nov. 18-22 in San Antonio, Texas.

Communication prior to beginning the actual prepurchase examination is important. This ensures the purchaser is made aware of all the components that make up a complete prepurchase examination. This also establishes whether the potential purchaser desires specific tests and imaging. It is also important to discuss any conflicts of interest the examining veterinarian might have (e.g., a horse being examined might have been treated by the current examining veterinary practice in the past). Communication during the examination is also essential to ensure any unusual or abnormal findings are clearly discussed; that the purchaser understands any implications; and to ensure that all procedures the purchaser desires (i.e., radiographs [X rays], blood tests, ridden exam) are performed. Last but not least, clear communication, often in verbal and written form of the summary of the exam findings identifying any abnormalities/unsoundness, is essential. These are the factors that might affect the purchaser's decision whether to buy the horse.

A prepurchase is a 'point-in-time' examination, or a 'snapshot' if you will. Whether to purchase is the owner's decision to make. The veterinarian's role is to identify any current problems or signs of potential problems (i.e., radiograph abnormalities) present at that time and to communicate this information to the potential purchaser. It is not up to the veterinarian to 'pass' or 'fail' a horse, but to identify factors affecting soundness for the intended use.

A lengthy discussion arose around how to best handle situations that can be construed as conflicts of interest for the veterinarian performing the prepurchase examination. It is not uncommon for a veterinarian to be asked to perform a prepurchase examination on a horse he or she has examined or treated in the past for the current seller. In this situation clear, open communication with both the purchaser and the seller is the best option. It is often possible to request that the examining veterinarian make available the horse's medical records so past evaluations are open for discussion with the purchaser as necessary. The examination itself can often be performed under the same 'open' information sharing between the purchaser and seller. This becomes important when a previously unknown issue is identified during a prepurchase examination. Another challenging situation arises when the physical location of the examination limits the amount of information that can be obtained. It is important that the veterinarian point this out to the purchaser. For instance, prepurchase examinations are often performed on show grounds where an eye exam cannot be performed fully with an ophthalmoscope in a sufficiently dark stall. Difficult behavior on the behalf of the horse itself or a young horse's lack of training and handling can also limit the veterinarian's ability to evaluate that horse's soundness fully.

Attendees also discussed using diagnostic imaging in prepurchase examinations. The imaging portion of a prepurchase examination can vary from no radiographs performed to greater than 40 radiographs, or even to additional imaging such as ultrasound. A potential purchaser might even request advanced imaging such as nuclear scintigraphy/bonescan or MRI of the front feet. Other diagnostic tests that can be of value to a potential purchaser include general health blood screens, endoscopic upper respiratory examinations, or reproductive examinations and tests. No matter how in-depth the prepurchase examination, clear communication between the potential purchaser and the examining veterinarian are essential to ensure that the information desired by the purchaser is obtained and clearly transmitted.

This table topic was moderated by Susan Emerson, DVM, of Northwestern Equine Performance, in Mulino, Ore., and Jeff Foland, DVM, MS, of Weatherford Equine Medical Center, in Weatherford, Texas.

About the Author

Susan Emerson, DVM

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