Client Management Guidelines

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Reduce the Likelihood of a Malpractice Suit or Board Complaint with Enhanced Communication Skills

Before Treatment

  1. Advise the client of the options, risks, and cost estimates.
  2. Make no statements to the client that can be interpreted as a guarantee or warranty of results.
  3. Secure the owner’s written consent before performing any procedure. Examples include surgery, anesthesia, diagnostics, euthanasia, and alternative medicine. Make sure the owner understands the procedure to be performed.
  4. Do not hold yourself out as a specialist unless you are willing to be held to a higher standard of skill and competency.
  5. Ask if the animal has been under the care of another veterinarian. Obtain pertinent records when necessary.
  6. If equipment for a preferred diagnostic or treatment procedure is unavailable, postpone the procedure or treatment or recommend a referral. If under the circumstances it is necessary to proceed, advise the client of the risk involved and obtain the client’s written consent.
  7. Use appropriate identification techniques to avoid treating the wrong animal.
  8. Note in the medical record the procedure that the animal is admitted for and review those notations immediately before surgery to avoid performing the wrong procedure.

During Treatment

  1. Maintain detailed and accurate records of exam findings and treatment of animals in your care.
  2. Avoid having the owner assist—particularly in restraining animals.
  3. Communicate regularly with the client regarding the progress of the treatment, course of action, prognosis, and cost.

After Treatment

  1. If your treatment is unsuccessful, avoid questioning the original course of action. Present further options when appropriate.
  2. A necropsy should be performed when the cause of death is in question. Using a veterinary pathologist is recommended.
  3. Continue to communicate if it is productive. Tell the truth and do not speculate.
  4. Express compassion for the owner(s) and animal(s).
  5. Do not release original records or radiographs unless required by law. Provide copies if requested.

Potential Claim

  1. Make no statements agreeing to the settlement of a malpractice charge.
  2. Any fee adjustment should be presented as a goodwill gesture.
  3. Call the PLIT office immediately if there is an event that could give rise to a claim. A client’s expression of dissatisfaction is sufficient reason for notification.
  4. Cooperate fully with your claim representatives.
  5. Do not discuss possible malpractice—your own or another veterinarian’s—with clients or their attorneys. If a client’s attorney contacts you, state that you will notify your insurance carrier to handle the matter.


  1. Maintain confidentiality of the veterinarian-client-patient relationship.
  2. Label all dispensed products. Include the warning of, “Keep out of reach of children.” If the product is toxic, mark it “Poison.” Use child resistant packaging whenever possible.
  3. Keep up with advancements in veterinary medicine.
  4. Be familiar with federal, state, and local laws affecting your practice including waste disposal, service of imaging equipment, compounding, drug labeling and storage, dispensing of controlled substances, and maintenance of records.
  5. Consider maintaining copies of client records at an off-site facility.
  6. Collection attempts may initiate malpractice allegations.
  7. Ask the pet owner if he or she understands and if there are any questions or concerns.


If you have any questions about these guidelines or require advice about a specific malpractice concern, please call the PLIT at 800-228-7548.

These guidelines do not replace or supersede any federal, state, or local laws. These are guidelines only and are not intended to set a standard of care.