Last month I wrote about a chain of events that lead to a client being very upset with us due to a string of misinformation. It was Friday morning and she had just euthanized her puppy for what she believed was because we had prescribed heartworm prevention that poisoned her dog. For two days her puppy had been unsuccessfully treated at another veterinary hospital and all we had to go on was what she told us. We were told his kidney values were high, he was doing worse so she had to euthanize and it was our fault.
Certainly understanding of the sudden, terrible situation of having a puppy get acutely sick and then euthanizing we gave our condolences. We asked what we could do for the owner. Her response was we could do whatever we would like but no matter what she would be suing us. Our relationship to that point was vaccinating and prescribing a healthy puppy a FDA approved heartworm prevention, we were confidant this owner did not have a case. At that point I’m sure a lawyer would recommend ending the relationship right then and there with the client.
But, when our practice manager brought the owner’s conversation to my attention I still wanted to know what happened? A young puppy that was perfectly healthy a week before gets acute azotemia and is euthanized within 2 days is all I had to go on. Certainly many possibilities existed but the one that gave me considerable concern was the possibility of a leptospirosis infection (which is endemic in our area). My thoughts then turned to the one year old child that was in the exam room with that puppy the week before.
The puppy was lost and by the clients unrealistic reaction our interest in this case should have been over. But being a veterinarian I had to think of the human health aspect, especially with a young child’s health at stake. So I discussed my concern with my practice manager. Given the lack of credible information the client had been given by other doctors to this point I was concerned this possibility was not going to be thoroughly followed up with. He had the same concerns and against legal advice we felt we needed to get answers on this case, if for any other reason the potential health of a child.
We could have done a gross necropsy ourselves and sent the appropriate samples to reference laboratories for testing but the owner had lost total trust in us. We told the owner the best option would be to get an independent, board certified analysis and take the puppy to the nearest university diagnostic lab which is about an hour and a half away. Unfortunately due to the price the owner balked some more. So my practice manager had a good idea and contacted the company that produced the heartworm prevention in question. As unlikely as both the company and we felt the prevention was the problem they agreed to pay for the necropsy since they were still in the middle of some damage control due to the erroneous Atlanta news report.
Unfortunately due to the drive the owner still balked at taking her puppy to the diagnostic laboratory. So my practice manager for the sake of ensuring this child’s well being went himself a half hour in the wrong direction to pick the puppy up, and then drove him to the university to have the necropsy performed. He literally spent that entire Friday dealing with this case.
Luckily the leptospirosis tests were negative. All toxin screens for the heartworm prevention were negative as well. The puppy had an acute renal and brain infection from an Enterococcus infection. The results took about 6 weeks until all results were in. After each report I would call the owner to follow-up (she had us sign for her to get the results directly from the university so we did not have an opportunity to tamper with them). Only once did she pick up the phone once the initial gross results were in but the leptospirosis and toxin tests were still pending. By now she had done some reading and was concerned about leptospirosis as well. We discussed the results and the possible implications of leptospirosis, but I advised the owner to talk with her pediatrician and to get infectious disease specialists on board if the results were positive. Luckily they were not and each time I called the owner she did not pick up the phone or call me back. During our conversation I could tell she was more concerned about her family then about litigation, but I could still tell that she had distrust for us because of that initial misplaced information.
In the end we lost a puppy. We went through a lot of trouble for a client we were not going to keep. But as unlikely as it was I am proud of the way our hospital handled the case and looked into something that could have had broader implications for a human, a young child none the less. Our diligence did not make good business or legal sense, but I truly believe that even though this owner did not appreciate it, we were the only ones truly looking out for her family and sometimes beyond better judgment you just have to do the right thing.
kreimer, 4 months ago | Flag
What a great post--than
ks for telling your story, Andy. I think once this client has some perspectiv e on the whole situation, she can't help but recognize the way your team went the extra mile for her family. But even if she doesn't, you did the right thing for the right thing's sake, when it would have been so easy just to walk away. Kudos to everyone involved.
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