Texas Vet Loses License over Internet Consultations

April 17, 2013

A lawsuit filed in early April in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas is challenging the state's ruling that a veterinarian cannot practice his profession solely through the Internet. The case, which has implications for the future of telemedicine, is being represented by the Institute for Justice, which believes the rule infringes on free speech rights, says the Washington Post.

  • The retired veterinarian, Ronald Hines, operates a website that provides veterinary advice for a flat fee of $58 but refunds any fees if he cannot provide useful advice without an examination.
  • Hines has potential clients, some of whom are overseas with limited access to veterinary services, send him all available medical records, including notes and X-rays.
  • Hines has earned less than $3,000 a year through the website, which differs from a traditional brick-and-mortar practice by allowing him the ability to conduct research when offering advice.

Following state law, the Texas veterinary board suspended Hines' license after discovering that his practice was strictly Internet-based. According to state law, a vet must have a personal relationship with the client and the animal and that relationship cannot be established solely through the telephone or Internet.

  • The laws, which are aimed at protecting patients, not veterinarians, are modeled after the American Veterinary Medical Association's recommendations.
  • According to the Texas board, Hines' practice crosses the line when he makes specific recommendations about specific animals.

Hines and his lawyers claim that the regulations restrict free speech and result in unfair protectionism. By limiting use of the Internet, the regulations serve to protect traditional brick-and-mortar vets from online competition like Hines.

  • The lawsuit seeks an injunction against the one year suspension of Hines' veterinarian license.
  • The results of the lawsuit will have implications for the booming telemedicine industry, which is enabling doctors to consult with their human patients through the Internet.

Source: "Texas Veterinarian Whose License Was Suspended for Online Work Challenges Decision in Lawsuit," Washington Post, April 9, 2013.

 

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