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Review board finds complaints committee decision to be unreasonable

Elyse Sunshine
Lonny Rosen

By Elyse Sunshine and Lonny Rosen

This case involved the death of a beloved dog and a complaint made by his owners to the College of Veterinarians of Ontario (the College) about the conduct of the veterinarian who treated him. While the Health Professions Appeal and Review Board (the Board) found the Complaints Committee’s (the Committee) investigation to be adequate; it found that its ultimate disposition was unreasonable given the serious concerns involved.

Background

Owners of a seven-year-old Alaskan malamute dog brought him to an animal hospital for several visits over a six month period for worsening symptoms, starting with lethargy and escalating to weight loss, bulging stomach, loss of appetite, etc. Eventually the dog was diagnosed with a large kidney tumour. Surgery was attempted, but due to the size of the tumour, the surgery was abandoned and the dog was euthanized.

The owners complained to the College that the veterinarian behaved in an incompetent and unprofessional manner in his management and treatment of their dog, in particular that he did not inform them that the bulge could be a cancerous tumour, that he did not take their concerns seriously (claiming the symptoms were due to the type of breed and was normal signs of aging), failed to recommend that an x-ray be performed on the dog after examining the bulge, and simply telling the owners to “keep an eye” on the dog. They suggested that had the vet suggested a diagnosis of cancer at an earlier appointment, there was a greater chance their dog would have survived.

The Committee decision

The Committee was concerned with the vet’s inadequate record keeping and failure to follow a structured medical examination. It observed that the veterinarian was the subject of a complaint in 2005 as well. The Committee noted the requirement of recording a full history of the owner’s concerns, a list of physical findings, and assessment including: diagnostic “rule outs” and a list of plans that would include diagnostic and treatment options. The Committee’s disposition was to “strongly advise” and “strongly recommend” the veterinarian to institute standard operating procedure.

The review

The owners requested the Board to review the decision. At the review, in response to questioning from the Board, the College’s representative stated that there is no system or protocol in place at the College to follow-up on the advice and recommendations set out in the decision; it is left to the discretion of the veterinarian. The College representative explained that should another complaint be made in the future and the veterinarian is found not to have taken the Committee’s advice, a different action would result.

The failure to ensure that the advice is followed concerned the Board, and it concluded that the Committee failed to serve and protect the public interest with its disposition to merely “strongly advise” and “strongly encourage” the veterinarian to take steps on his own to improve his practice. The Board found the Committee’s decision to be unreasonable and required the Committee to reconsider its decision, in light of the information in the record, and the veterinarian’s prior history with the College.

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