Client Management Guidelines

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Managing the Malpractice Allegations and Board Complaints

As a veterinarian, you may never face an allegation of malpractice or a board complaint. But they are a reality of the profession, and it is best to be prepared. Follow these guidelines to minimize your risk and be better prepared in the event of an allegation or complaint.

Before Treatment

  1. Advise your client of the treatment options, potential risks, prognosis, and estimated costs.
  2. Never make a statement to the client that can be misinterpreted as a guarantee of results.
  3. Make sure the client understands the procedure and who will be performing it.
  4. Secure the client’s written consent before performing any procedure. Examples include: surgery, anesthesia, diagnostics, euthanasia, and alternative medicine. Ensure that the procedure(s) to be performed are clearly noted on the surgical consent form.
  5. Do not refer to yourself as a specialist unless you are Board Certified, as you may be held to a higher standard of skill and competency.
  6. Ask if the animal has been under the care of another veterinarian. Obtain pertinent records when necessary.
  7. If you can’t access equipment for a preferred diagnostic or treatment procedure, offer a referral. If emergency circumstances require you to proceed, inform your client of the risk involved and secure written consent.
  8. Use appropriate identification techniques to avoid treating the wrong animal or wrong body part.
  9. Confirm surgical procedure(s) to be performed are documented in the medical records on admission.
  10. Review the medical record and surgical consent form before surgery to avoid performing the wrong procedure.

During Treatment

  1. Keep accurate and detailed records of treatment and exam findings of animals in your care. 
  2. Avoid client assistance—especially with restraining animals. 
  3. Communicate regularly with the client about treatment progress, course of action, prognosis and cost.

After Treatment

  1. If treatment was unsuccessful, avoid questioning the original course of action. Present additional options when appropriate.
  2. Always recommend a necropsy when the cause of death is unknown or in question. Using a veterinary pathologist is recommended.
  3. Express compassion/empathy for the animal and client when appropriate.
  4. Do not release original medical records or radiographs. Provide copies of medical records to the client upon request or if required by law

Guidelines for a Potential Claim

  1. Call the PLIT office immediately if an event occurs that could result in a claim or a client files a complaint against your license. A client’s expression of dissatisfaction is sufficient reason for notification.
  2. Never settle a claim or make a statement agreeing to the settlement of a malpractice allegation on your own.
  3. Do not agree to pay any subsequent veterinary fees without communicating with the insurance carrier for PLIT. Voluntary payments are not covered by the policy.
  4. Cooperate fully with your claim representatives.
  5. Never 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.

General Guidelines

  1. Always maintain confidentiality of the veterinarian-client-patient relationship and patient medical records.
  2. Never post anything about potential or actual claims on social media or the internet. Any statements or information you share about your malpractice claim or Board complaint might be used as evidence against you in civil litigation or an investigation by a state veterinary board.
  3. Label all dispensed products. Include the warning “Keep out of reach of children.” Use child-resistant packaging whenever possible. Advise the client of any risks, side effects, or special handling instructions. Dispense drug information handouts to clients as appropriate based on medications.
  4. Stay up to date and informed about advancements in veterinary medicine.
  5. Be familiar with federal and state laws related to veterinary practice, including waste disposal, servicing of imaging equipment, compounding, drug labeling and storage, dispensing of controlled substances, telehealth, and maintenance of records.
  6. Be familiar with your state practice act, and pay special attention to any veterinary-client-patient relationship sections.
  7. Consult your state practice act for requirement on medical record keeping. Do regular backups of electronic medical records.


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

You can also visit the AVMA PLIT Claim Center at Claim Center | AVMA PLIT to access content and tools detailing steps to take if you have a potential or actual malpractice claim or license complaint. These guidelines do not replace or supersede any federal or state laws. These are guidelines only and are not intended to set a standard of care.