This is something I never thought would happen to me. To be completely transparent, I really used to think, “How could that ever happen to me”. I communicate well with clients, we do a great job and have systems in place to prevent things from falling through the cracks and for goodness sakes, I don’t practice ANYTHING like Dr. Pol.
It did happen and legitimately a patient of ours had a very bizarre and unexpected complication after surgery. I consulted with another specialist at the veterinary school at NCSU and she had not heard of anything like this happening either. The best assumption we could make without additional diagnostics, which the owner was unwilling to do, was that the pet had an underlying issue that we were unaware of that had lead to the complication. This totally sucks for the owner and the pet, but it was not anyone’s fault.
Getting a certified letter from the board almost made me physically ill. It was bad enough that one of my patients had an unexpected complication but now I was being blamed for it despite having done all that I could to help the situation.
Here are four things I learned going through an awful experience:
- No one is immune from being reported to the veterinary medical board. We, unfortunately, live in a society where blame has to be placed on someone. Doctors have had to deal with this for years and now I believe more and more veterinarians are going to be dealing with it as well. From what I have gathered from our state board, they are inundated with complaints and since it took about a year for may case to be dismissed that seems to be the case.
- You must document all communication with an owner. This is one of the most challenging things for all of us to stay on top of but it is a necessity especially if there have been complications. Without great medical records, this would have been a lot more difficult to fight but since both myself and the veterinarians at the hospital we were working at had documented communication with the owners prior to and after surgery then it was a lot more clear-cut. We also had a very clear consent form that was signed by the owner and witnessed by a hospital staff member. All these things are MANDATORY so don’t let these things slip through the cracks.
- Thank goodness for technology. The owner accused us of not returning multiple phone calls until they got angry. This was not true and thankfully we had the phone records from the cell phones to prove it. I pulled all the phone records from both the work phone and my personal cell phone to prove that there were no incoming calls from them. Without these records, it would have been my word against theirs.
- Don’t let fear dictate how you practice. As hard as it is, this is not something you should take personally or let fear become your motivator for how you work up a case or practice in general. When something, like this happens, it makes you paranoid but you can’t let it take all the joy you get out from doing your job.
Based on this case, we did take a look at some of the procedures we had in place and improved a few things to hopefully prevent something like this from happening again. But the unfortunate truth is, despite our best efforts we cannot control everything and complications will occur. We are not God and medicine is not an exact science as much as we wish it were so we must do all that we can to make sure that we are not putting ourselves in bad situations.
Ultimately, the case was dismissed but I would be lying if I didn’t say it was an awful experience to go through. If you are unfortunate enough to have this happen to you then learn from it. Is there anything you could have done differently or better? BUT it is important to remember that hindsight is 20/20, so eventually you need to let it go.
This is not something I am proud to share but I offer it to you in hopes that you’ll learn something from my experience that can help you!
Your turn! Join the conversation and tell us about a life lesson that made a huge impact on you.