Vet-client relationship remains murky

Cattle producers aren’t sure how to set up such a relationship, while veterinarians worry about the paperwork

SWIFT CURRENT, Sask. — Regulatory changes around veterinary medications mean a rancher can’t just call a veterinarian, explain what’s wrong and expect a prescription.

The two must have a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) to dispense and obtain prescriptions.

How that relationship is established is still murky, according to several who spoke during the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association annual convention June 11.

Some ranchers said they only want to see the vet at their place a couple of times a year and wondered if that is enough, while veterinarians said they are already short-staffed and bogged down in paperwork.

Saskatchewan Veterinary Medical Association registrar Judy Currie said it has become a huge issue, but it boils down to trust.

“When you hire a veterinarian you trust that that person knows something about animals,” she told the meeting. “The veterinarian needs to trust the producers … that the producer knows how to use antibiotics and that the producer is going to use any prescription in the way the veterinarian recommends they be used.”

She said the VCPR is developed when a veterinarian visits a livestock operation and observes the animals, production methods, nutrition, handling and other aspects.

The key is writing down that information in a medical record to prove the relationship.

Currie gave an example of a cattle producer who is a long-time client of a veterinarian. The producer retires from the cattle business, but begins a sheep operation. The producer didn’t let the vet know he had sheep until a problem with pneumonia occurred.

“Do you still have a valid VCPR with your veterinarian in this situation? The answer is no. Your veterinarian doesn’t know that you know anything at all about sheep. She knows absolutely that you know everything there is to know about raising cattle,” Currie said.

One way to establish the new VCPR is for the vet to come out to the farm.

Another way is if lab work is done at Provincial Diagnostic Services, which would give the vet the go-ahead, Currie said.

She said examining a producer’s animals isn’t always necessary after the VCPR is established. The vet can offer advice over the phone as long as the vet keeps a record of what was discussed.

The VCPR is part of efforts to control access and prevent the overuse of antimicrobial drugs. Over-the-counter sales will no longer be available for some medications, so producers will have to obtain them through veterinary clinics.

Dr. Glen Griffin is a veterinarian in Swift Current.

“All these rules (are) putting a lot more pressure on myself and my veterinarians with the record keeping and going out and meeting people who don’t traditionally use vets in order for us to sell them drugs,” he said. “I worry about this because right now there is an extreme shortage of veterinarians in Western Canada.”

Shane Jahnke, SSGA past-president, said Griffin is his vet but he doesn’t use his services often.

“I like to think I do have a very good veterinary-client-patient relationship with him. However, we don’t like to see a vet out at our place because if I see a vet out at my place that means I’m doing something wrong,” he said.

He also said his ranch is an hour away from the vet clinic and he wouldn’t want to waste time when he knows how to treat a coughing calf himself, for example.

Currie said in a situation like that, if a VCPR is established then a phone consultation is adequate as long as the vet keeps a record.

She addressed concerns about how often vets should attend ranches by noting that if all a vet ever does is pregnancy check, then a valid VCPR hasn’t been established. However, if during that process the conversation centres on nutrition and vaccines and other information and that is recorded in a medical record, the VCPR is good.

“The VCPR is situational and it can cover day-to-day ongoing medical issues on a farm or a ranch,” Currie said. “But if all you ever do is invite the veterinarian out there to preg check and semen check, there’s no medical knowledge there for that veterinarian to make any kind of assessment about the health of your herd and send you away with antibiotics.”

Veterinarian and SSGA board member Dr. Henry McCarthy said most times when he is preg checking, the conversation extends to all types of animal management. But he also said he has had many phone calls this spring from people he has never heard from looking to establish some type of VCPR and there isn’t enough time or manpower to do that.

Currie agreed the veterinarian shortage is a problem.

The SVMA and Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association this year launched a pilot Preceptor Program for Western College of Veterinary Medicine students who will enter their fourth year this fall. Five of them are working at rural practices this summer to help cover where one or two vets have large areas.

Griffin said the problem isn’t just in smaller centres or large geographical areas. He would like to have eight or nine vets working for him.

“I’ve been searching for vets since we took over the practice five years ago,” he said. “It’s a serious shortage.”

Rancher Lynn Grant told Currie that her take-away from the meeting should be that many are frustrated and the problem should be fixed. He said he is in a similar situation to Jahnke in that he is 90 minutes from a vet.

“I expect to see him twice a year at most to semen test and preg test,” he said.

But during that time, he expects more from the vet and suggested the vet expects more from the client, which should constitute a VCPR.

He said perhaps the paperwork should be less onerous.

Currie said veterinarians are taught in vet school how to keep well-organized concise records. They have to be able to prove what was done in case of a complaint.

“This is nothing new. It’s an absolute. There have to be written medical records.”

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