January 26, 2011
Texas bill seeks to waive confidentiality privileges for deadbeat clients
Legislation would protect veterinarians collecting unpaid debts
By: Jennifer Fiala
For The VIN News Service
A bill filed in Texas could free veterinarians from confidentiality requirements that bar them from disclosing patient medical records, specifically in instances when owners fail to pay for services rendered.
Without a change in the law, practitioners might have a hard time going after non-paying clients legally if they can’t disclose the medical care that they provided, state veterinary leaders reason. The bill also seeks to waive the confidentiality mandate for public health purposes.
The move to amend the state’s statute on confidentiality — found in section 801.353 of the Texas Occupations Code, a chapter commonly cited as the Veterinary Licensing Act — comes via House Bill 413. Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, a veterinarian and rancher, is sponsoring the measure, filed on Dec. 10.
Elizabeth Choate, an attorney for the Texas Veterinary Medical Association, where the bill originated, knows of no case in which current state code regarding privacy prevented a practitioner from collecting a debt from a client. Rather, the change is intended to be proactive. "We're heading off the issues before they arise," she explains, "so that our veterinarians aren't cheated out of or afraid to pursue deserved payment for their hard work."
Right now, HB 413 sits in a preliminary state with the House just two weeks into its legislative session. If passed, it will take effect Sept. 1.
Across the country, many states have enacted provisions that protect the privacy of veterinary patients and their medical records in much the same way that confidentiality applies to doctor-patient relationships on the human side of medicine. The VIN News Service has not identified language in other states that waives privacy privileges for clients delinquent on their veterinary bills.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) provides a summary of state laws regarding privacy, last updated in November 2010. In addition, ethical obligations surrounding veterinarian-client confidentiality are outlined in section 19 of the AVMA’s model practice act, which serves as a guide for state officials seeking to regulate veterinary medicine.
“In any profession where one is privy to the client’s personal and private information, that information should be carefully guarded and made confidential,” says Dewey Helmcamp III, an attorney and Texas Veterinary Medical Board executive director. "The general idea with this bill is that it would allow the veterinarian to release any and all information that might be necessary to substantiate the provision of veterinary medical services and the nonpayment for those services."
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