The quick answer is yes, but you must follow strict guidelines as set forth in your Act and Rules. We take no position on whether veterinarians should allow chiropractors, physical therapists, medical orthopedic or plastic surgeons to “crossover” into veterinary medicine. Instead, veterinarians should be aware of the risks and responsibilities of asking a healthcare provider, who is licensed to treat only human ailments, for assistance in a veterinary medical case.
There are six sections of the Veterinary Medicine and Surgery Practice Act of 2004 (“Act”) and the Rules for Administration of the Act (“Rules”) that must be read together. When looked at as a whole, they determine the regulations governing the “complementary, alternative or integrative therapies” in veterinary medicine. Section 4 of the Act exempts a medical or chiropractic physician or a physical therapist (and others) from prosecution for practicing veterinary medicine without a license providing you follow these requirements:
- The responsible vet must make a written request for assistance to the non-vet;
- The non-vet must be licensed in Illinois in a “regulated profession;”
- There must be a pre-existing veterinary-client-patient relationship as defined by the Act;
- The client must give informed consent;
- The non-vet may only act under the supervision and control of the vet;
- The vet must take full responsibility for the treatment provided; and,
- The vet must maintain, in addition to all other required records, appropriate records that include documentation of:
- an established veterinary-client-patient relationship;
- written or oral informed consent of the client;
- diagnosis; and,
- the referral (request for assistance).
Obviously, numerous hoops a vet must jump through before allowing a crossover healthcare professional to treat or assist. To clarify, to establish a veterinary-client-patient relationship you must:
- assume the responsibility for making all clinical judgments regarding the health of the patient and the client has agreed to follow your instructions;
- have a minimum of knowledge necessary to render a general or preliminary diagnosis of the medical condition of the patient (must have recently seen and examined the animal and have full access to the patient’s records, even if they are kept offsite); and,
- be readily available for followup if needed.
Sec. 4 of the Act states that you must obtain informed consent of the client. Informed consent is not defined in either the Act or Rules but it is a legal term of art when applied to the treatment of human ailments. Generally, it means all pertinent information regarding the requested assistance must be disclosed to the client. Second, the client must also be of sufficient age and mental capacity (competency) to make the decision to allow a non-vet to treat the patient (client has the legal right to make decisions regarding the animal). Third, the decision to allow a non-vet to treat the animal must be voluntary, which is met after a full explanation of the potential risks and benefits of the alternative treatment (and probability those risks and benefits will occur).
Finally, although the Act states that the informed consent may be oral or written, a prudent vet will at a minimum memorialize the consent and its terms in the treatment record. A better approach would be a full written disclosure and release.