Veterinary Medicine Regulation Issues Described (AAEP 2012)

Veterinary Medicine Regulation Issues Described (AAEP 2012)

As a licensed profession in the United States, veterinary medicine is subject to definition and regulation at the state government level. But which procedures constitute veterinary services varies and conflict arises when regulations are unclear.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

A growing number of nonveterinary health-care providers (NVHCP) have entered the equine market in fields such as dentistry, acupuncture, and chiropractic in recent years, bringing veterinary regulation issues to the forefront of political debate and legal actions.

As a licensed profession in the United States, veterinary medicine is subject to definition and regulation at the state government level. But which procedures constitute “veterinary services” varies from state to state, and conflict arises when regulations are unclear regarding which personnel may practice certain procedures or when individuals skirt those regulations for financial gain. At the 2012 American Association of Equine Practitioners’ Convention, held Dec. 1-5 in Anaheim, Calif. Stephen Galloway, DVM, a member of the Tennessee’s Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, presented an overview of veterinary regulation in the United States.

Each state’s board of veterinary medical examiners (BVME) regulates veterinary licensure. As Galloway pointed out, these bodies are consumer protection boards whose purpose is to regulate the product (quality veterinary services) provided to the public to ensure public and animal welfare and safety; they do not exist to protect or promote the veterinary profession. The BVMEs operate under and enforce each state’s Veterinary Practice Act (VPA), which specifically includes or excludes practices as falling within the scope of veterinary medicine. These regulated practices vary from state to state.

Galloway addressed the levels of professional regulation—licensing, certification, and registration—and described the roles of professional associations in monitoring and maintaining professional standards. He also analyzed the pros and cons of veterinary medical procedure regulation. For instance, while regulating veterinary services protects the consumer and patient by ensuring that only appropriately qualified health-care providers are allowed to perform professional services, regulation increases the cost of those services.

“Right to work” is an argument NVHCPS commonly raise against restricting health care services to licensed professionals. Galloway noted that some NVHCPs contend that restricting services such as lay dentistry to veterinarians is a form of protectionism, creating a professional monopoly.

Galloway, however, stressed the distinction between “ethical” and “legal” practice. He explained to that while it might be legal under certain circumstances for a veterinarian to hire a nonveterinarian “equine dentist” to “float the teeth” of his patients, in many cases this behavior neither complies with the intent of the law nor protects the best interests of the horse or client. This is because the patient does not receive a professional medical examination, he added, and correctable dental conditions are often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

Ultimately, said Galloway, the veterinarian must make the distinction between what is legal–what he or she can do–and what is ethical–what he or she should do.

About the Author

Christy Corp-Minamiji, DVM

Christy Corp-Minamiji, DVM, practices large animal medicine in Northern California, with particular interests in equine wound management and geriatric equine care. She and her husband have three children, and she writes fiction and creative nonfiction in her spare time.

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