Supreme Court declines review of examination requirement

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The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a decision requiring that veterinarians in Texas conduct physical examinations before giving medical advice.

Dr. Ronald S. Hines, who had advised pet owners by phone and email, had challenged the state’s physical examination requirement as a violation of his rights to free speech, to work without irrational interference, and to legal protections equal to those of brick-and-mortar clinics. But, in March 2015, justices with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the restrictions fall within state powers to license and regulate professional practices and are based in a rational desire to improve medical care.

I just wish there wasn’t so much fear of sharing of information online.

Dr. Ronald S. Hines

The Supreme Court declined further review last November.

Asked what he planned following that decision, Dr. Hines said, “I suppose that’s the end of it.”

Dr. Hines said he sees a lost opportunity for veterinarians, including those on pregnancy leave or who just want more independence in practice.

“I just wish there wasn’t so much fear of sharing of information online,” he said.

Dr. Hines’ court complaint, filed in 2013, indicates he worked in research, pet practice, and marine mammal practice from 1966 until his retirement in 2002. It notes that his advancing age and a disability connected with nerve damage resulting from a fall and spinal cord injury in 1977 make continued work in a conventional veterinary practice too difficult.

Since retiring, Dr. Hines has written articles about pet health and care and posted them on his site. That writing became targeted to specific pets and owners and included reviewing records from those owners, court documents state.

He also started giving advice to people who lacked access to veterinary care, “evaluating conflicting diagnoses or inappropriate drug prescriptions, and referring patients to appropriate local veterinarians,” the documents state. He charged $58 to those who could afford to pay and declined to give advice when he thought physical examinations were needed.

Dr. Hines thinks such remote medical services can augment, not replace, services at clinics, although rules would be needed. Variations among state rules could place some in-state veterinarians at a disadvantage, he said, and he expects companies based outside the U.S. and not subject to state laws also will fill needs unmet by U.S. veterinarians.

Dr. Hines plans to continue writing about veterinary medicine.

“I’ll keep writing as long as I feel that I have something to contribute,” he said.

Related JAVMA content:

AVMA panel to scrutinize telemedicine (Nov. 1, 2015)

Court favors state regulators on examination requirement (June 1, 2015)