I was reminded recently of a complicated issue of professional ethics that came up in my world a few years ago.
Here’s the scenario: A client, we’ll call her Lorna, has moved her horse to a newly established boarding facility that offers pasture board for horses in small groups. Her horse has been there long enough that Lorna has had occasion to use the barn’s chosen veterinarian for a routine call – shots and such. So, she has now established a professional relationship as a client of this vet.
A few months into the boarding business’ presence on this property (which is new to this business, but has housed horses before), Barn Manager (BM) decides she’d like to know how the horses are doing nutritionally on the pastures. She chooses one horse from each pasture and arranges for veterinarian to draw blood to check a variety of things including Vitamin E and selenium levels. BM does not choose any horses that belong to the facility owner or to BM herself, only client horses.
BM does not inform boarders that these tests are done on their horses until after the fact. Lorna’s horse is one of those horses tested.
After the lab results for the tests on the boarders’ horses come back, veterinarian calls BM to give her the results and, later, provides a copy of the labwork to BM on each of the tested horses.
Veterinarian does not contact owners of the tested horses to inform them of the lab results, nor does she provide written results to the horse owners. Veterinarian does send a bill for the lab test to each of the owners of the tested horses (contact info. provided by BM).
Lorna is not amused. She has it out with BM for obvious huge, large and very bad breach of barn manager/client ethics. (BM is unrepentant. She wanted the info. and neither she nor facility owner wanted to pay for it. Clients should be glad BM is taking such good care of their horses and should shut up and pay vet bill.) Lorna makes plans to move her horse to another boarding facility.
Lorna comes to me and asks what should she do about the vet bill? I say:
1. You did not authorize the test; you shouldn’t pay for it.
2. Vet committed huge ethical breach by reporting information about your horse to a third party without your explicit direction/permission. Vet should be reported to State Vet Board for ethics violation.
I don’t know whether Lorna paid the bill or whether she reported the violation. What would you have done?