AVMA determining scope of improper practice

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When Illinois' veterinary practice act was opened in 2010, the Illinois State VMA hoped legislators would address problems with nonveterinarians who were improperly providing alternative and dental care for pets, Dr. Stephen Dullard said.

Some such providers had never contacted veterinarians about the pets, potentially missing information about existing conditions or delaying needed treatment. But legislators indicated the ISVMA's arguments for changes were weak because the organization couldn't provide data to back its concerns. An effort by the AVMA to collect data on such practices could give veterinary associations an additional resource in lobbying state officials to change the wording in bills or regulations or clarify which practices can be performed only by veterinarians. Dr. Dullard, chair of the ISVMA Legislative Committee, helped develop the resource. 

Dr. Case examines a horse in Barrington Hills, Ill.
Dr. Heather Case, director of the AVMA Scientific Activities Division, examines a horse in Barrington Hills, Ill. The AVMA is collecting reports on nonveterinarians who are improperly providing veterinary care, including equine dentistry.

Since mid-June 2011, the AVMA has been collecting reports on animal care practices improperly performed by nonveterinarians. The reports are intended to provide quantitative third-party data to legislative and regulatory bodies in response to an increasing number of challenges to the scope of practice of veterinary medicine, AVMA information states. The AVMA is using the reports only for advocacy purposes and will not investigate the reports or use them to file complaints.

Dr. Dullard, who is also the American Association of Feline Practitioners' alternate delegate to the AVMA House of Delegates, said the illegal practice of veterinary medicine is a public safety issue, and the profession needs to know the nature and extent of the problem to address it.

The California VMA has similarly sought information from members about illegal practices and is campaigning against unlicensed veterinary care. The state VMA received about 1,500 responses to a 12-question survey about such practices, and about 1,200 of the respondents indicated they were aware of the illegal practice of veterinary medicine in their area. More than 300 indicated they had treated animals harmed by unlicensed individuals.

In the California survey, about 950 veterinarians reported they were aware of teeth cleaning performed without anesthesia, 500 reported chiropractic manipulations performed, and 300 reported vaccinations done without veterinarian oversight, according to information from the California VMA.

Valerie Fenstermaker, executive director of the California VMA, said her association knew before the survey that unlicensed veterinary care was rampant, and the survey responses gave hard data needed to move forward with the CVMA's campaign. The CVMA and the California Veterinary Medical Board are supporting legislation that would expand the board's authority to penalize nonveterinarians who advertise that they will perform veterinary services as well as expand investigative prosecutorial priorities to include the activities of unlicensed people acting as veterinarians or veterinary technicians and those who aid such people.

"Animals are being harmed, and it needs to stop," Fenstermaker said. "Clients are being misled by persons who are advertising that they have the knowledge to diagnose and treat an animal and that they have authority under California state law to do so."

The California VMA saw no changes after informing unlicensed practitioners when they were breaking the law and informing the state licensing board about illegal activity, Fenstermaker said. The board lacked the authority to handle the reports, she said.

But the CVMA has brought more attention to the problem through the survey and meetings with the board, legislators, and the Department of Consumer Affairs, she said.

Fenstermaker said leaders of other states' VMAs have contacted her regarding California's survey, and she thinks it is important that the AVMA bring national attention to the issue of unlicensed practice.

The AVMA also collects reports on pharmacies that engage in practices that appear to violate FDA regulations or provide less than ideal patient care. The AVMA provides a complaint form for veterinarians to send to state and federal authorities. The Association asks that those using the form send a copy to the AVMA to provide information on the number and type of problems veterinarians are experiencing with pharmacies.

The AVMA scope of practice information form is available here. The prescribing complaint form is available (PDF) here.