Medical & Legal Issues in the Veterinary-Client-Patient Relationship

Medical & Legal Issues in the Veterinary-Client-Patient Relationship
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  • 1:39 What is the VCPR?
  • 2:53 Importance of VCPR
  • 5:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
In this lesson, we'll cover the very important veterinarian-client-patient relationship, what it is, and why it exists in the first place for medical and legal reasons.


Let's pretend you are working in a small, solo practice. You're the veterinary assistant and working with you is one veterinarian, one veterinary technician, and one receptionist.

One summer day, the clinic gets really busy. The receptionist is dealing with a client, the veterinarian and nurse are busy with a patient, and the phone is ringing off the hook. It's your job to help out the receptionist and take any calls she cannot. As you pick up the phone, you hear someone saying that her dog is in a lot of pain. She asks if the doctor can prescribe some Tramadol (a pain reliever) so she can pick it up at the local Wal-a-drug A.S.A.P.

You ask her if the doctor has ever seen her dog before, to which she responds, 'No.' What do you tell her at this point?

A. No problem. We understand the dog is in a lot of pain. We'll fax the prescription right over.

B. There's a slight problem. The veterinarian needs to talk with you over the phone first. Once she does and confirms your dog is in pain, she'll be able to send the prescription right over.

C. The doctor needs to examine your dog first before prescribing any medication.

You'll know how to field just such a call by the end of our discussion as we discuss the VCPR. And it's important that you do know how to answer such a call because it will almost certainly happen to you and may have serious legal repercussions if you don't know what to do.

What Is the VCPR?

The VCPR is the veterinarian-client-patient relationship and it is a cornerstone ethical and legal concept in veterinary medicine. The veterinarian is an individual trained and licensed to treat animals. The client is the animal's owner. And the patient is the animal being treated by the veterinarian.

A valid VCPR exists when a veterinarian is intimately aware of a patient's health status. Such an intimate connection cannot occur virtually or over the phone. Thus, it's absolutely crucial to note that a valid VCPR cannot occur without a veterinarian examining an animal hands-on.

This means a veterinarian who has not examined your pet in person is not allowed to diagnose your pet's medical condition or prescribe any medication or any treatment. Furthermore, even a valid VCPR expires if your veterinarian does not regularly see your pet. Commonly, it is held that your pet must be seen by the veterinarian at least once a year to maintain a valid VCPR.

Why Is the VCPR Important?

So, now you know what the VCPR is and now you know that the correct choice from our introductory question was answer C. Now, let's say that the person on the phone begins to fume that the only reason the doctor wants to see their pet is so they can charge her a lot of money for an exam. What will you say then?

To answer such a statement, we need to first understand why the VCPR is so important. If you were to call a random human physician and ask them for a prescription of some medication, they would tell you no. Why? Because they have no idea who you are, what health problems you really have, and thus, how they should be managed.

If a human doctor were to randomly prescribe drugs, they could be held liable for any problems that occur thereafter. That includes fines, lawsuits, loss of their medical license, and even jail time. Veterinary medicine is no different.

Like a human physician, a veterinarian cannot magically diagnose something over the phone or email. The most important test in human or veterinary medicine is the physical exam. That, and appropriate history taking, oftentimes gives the veterinarian more than 50% of the useful information they need to properly diagnose and treat an animal.

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