Co-authored by Nancy E. Halpern, DVM, Esq. and Elizabeth G. Litten. Also posted on Animal Law Update.
As reported in expressnews.com:
Joseph Larsen, a Houston-based open records lawyer, said if Texas A&M owns the animals, the chapter cited in the attorney general’s opinion that grants veterinarian-client confidentiality should not apply because the veterinarians are working for the university. He said the law applies only to veterinarians who see animals that are owned by someone else.
However, nothing in the Texas Veterinary Practice Act provides such an exception.
A client is defined as the “owner or other caretaker of the animal.” § 801.351(a)(1).
Furthermore, veterinary practice requires the existence of a veterinarian-client-patient relationship which exists between laboratory animal veterinarians, Texas A&M and the animals in their care. The law sets forth requirements of the Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship as follows:
a) A person may not practice veterinary medicine unless a veterinarian-client patient relationship exists. A veterinarian-client-patient relationship exists if the veterinarian:
(1) assumes responsibility for medical judgments regarding the health of an animal and a client, who is the owner or other caretaker of the animal, agrees to follow the veterinarian’s instructions;
(2) possesses sufficient knowledge of the animal to initiate at least a general or preliminary diagnosis of the animal’s medical condition; and
(3) is readily available to provide, or has provided, follow-up medical care in the event of an adverse reaction to, or a failure of, the regimen of therapy provided by the veterinarian.
(b) A veterinarian possesses sufficient knowledge of the animal for purposes of Subsection (a)(2) if the veterinarian has recently seen, or is personally acquainted with, the keeping and care of the animal by:
(1) examining the animal; or
(2) making medically appropriate and timely visits to the premises on which the animal is kept.
c) A veterinarian-client-patient relationship may not be established solely by telephone or electronic means. (Section 801.351)
There are no laws or regulations exempting laboratory animal veterinarians from licensure in Texas. However, the “board may issue a special license to practice veterinary medicine to an applicant who is: (1) a member of the faculty or staff of a board-approved veterinary program at an institution of higher education … . ” Section 801.256.
Special licenses may also be granted to veterinarians working for the Texas Animal Health Condition or the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory, but a special license is not available for a laboratory animal veterinarian serving in that capacity for a university.
In other jurisdictions, like New Jersey, the “practice of veterinary medicine, surgery, and dentistry” does not include:
(6) Any properly trained animal health technician or other properly trained assistant, who is under the responsible supervision and direction of a licensed veterinarian in his practice of veterinary medicine, if the technician or assistant does not represent himself as a veterinarian or use any title or degree pertaining to the practice thereof and does not diagnose, prescribe, or perform surgery. (N.J.S.A 45:16-8.1.)
However, a laboratory animal veterinarian providing for the clinical care of the animals may still have to be licensed and governed by veterinary practice state laws.
The Beagle Freedom Project, concerned that Texas may set a new precedent for universities in other states, is reportedly considering filing a lawsuit.
Notably, Florida, known for its expansively permissive open public records act, has recently adopted a law which provides for an exemption to the State’s open public records act for animal medical records held by any state college of veterinary medicine that is accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association Council on education.
In support of this law, the
Legislature finds that the release of such animal medical records compromises the confidentiality protections otherwise afforded the owners of such animals treated by licensed veterinarians in this state . . . [and] that the privacy concerns that result from the release of animal medical records outweigh any public benefit that may be derived from the disclosure of the information.
These concerns arguably also apply to animals owned by research facilities.