Calif. veterinarians await answers on drug-counseling law

State Veterinary Medical Board has yet to provide guidance on new mandate

January 28, 2019 (published)
By Christy Corp-Minamiji, DVM

The California Veterinary Medical Board had no answers when asked during a meeting last week for help interpreting a new law that requires veterinarians to provide drug counseling to pet owners whenever they prescribe or dispense a new drug for a patient. The law has raised numerous questions among practitioners in the state.

During a meeting last Wednesday in Davis, Raphael Moore, general counsel for the Veterinary Information Network, asked for clarification on a variety of aspects of the law. VIN is an online community for the profession and parent of the VIN News Service.

In response, board Executive Officer Jessica Sieferman said that she and the board attorney were planning to meet on Tuesday with legislative staff and would post information on the board's website "shortly."

The veterinary drug counseling requirement went into effect on Jan. 1. It appears in the California Business and Professions Code as section 4829.5. The provision requires veterinarians to “offer to provide, in person or through electronic means, to the client responsible for the animal, or his or her agent, a consultation …” regarding a drug or drugs being prescribed.

While the broad outlines of the law may seem straightforward, the logistics are trickier to parse. A VIN News Service article about the law published on Jan. 3 garnered 250 comments as of Monday, the bulk of them expressing confusion over the language of the law and consternation at having received little or no notice from the board before it took effect. The board has posted no information to date on its website.

The California Veterinary Medical Association, a professional advocacy organization, kept its members abreast of the pending legislation with email blasts and website updates. It has posted a summary of the regulations with basic guidance for practitioners, but questions remain.

Gauging from the VIN message board discussion, veterinary practitioners are puzzled by a range of details, from the way in which they must offer counseling to clients to the breadth and depth of information they must convey.

For example, the wording that practitioners must "offer to provide, in person or through electronic means ... a consultation" led several veterinarians to wonder what methods count as electronic means. And may they provide the information through either route — in person or electronically — or may only the offer of counseling be made through either route?

Also, among the pieces of information required in the consultation are “the common severe adverse effects” of the drug in question. Veterinarians wonder whether that means common adverse effects, severe adverse effects, or only adverse effects that are both common and severe.

In the online discussion, Dr. Alison Stambaugh wrote, "Very few of the medications I prescribe have side effects that are both 'common' and 'severe,' or I wouldn't use them if I had any other option."

The Veterinary Medical Board meeting last week did little to dispel the confusion.

Because the new rule was not on the meeting agenda, Moore, VIN's general counsel, raised the issue during public comments. He provided a written list of nine questions for the board and told the panel that practitioners are flummoxed. “It’s not so much an adverse response to the law," he said. "It’s more of the fact [that] no one was aware it was coming.”

Sieferman replied that the board is working to clarify the outstanding issues and is scheduled to consult with "Senate Business and Professions Code staff" in the coming week.

Sieferman did not respond to emails or telephone calls from the VIN News Service requesting comment and details on the upcoming meeting.

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