Sun Investigates

Veterinarians to be required to issue informed-consent forms

Maryland pet owners would receive a description of the procedures their animals undergo and a cost estimate before their veterinarian provides treatment, under a proposed regulation set to take effect before the end of the year.

The Maryland Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners discussed the new informed-consent standards at Thursday's meeting as a way to head off disputes over bills. Board President Chris H. Runde said many veterinarians already ask customers to sign such forms, but the regulation will make it a requirement.

"So people know when they drop their animal off, 'This is what we're going to do. These are the rights and responsibilities of the client. These are our responsibilities as the veterinarian, and these are all the things that we recommend that be done and this is what they cost,'" Runde said.

Bernadette Morrissey Wood, a consumer representative on the board, said the forms are a good idea.

"It's really protection for both parties," she said.

Large-animal practitioners may be exempt from issuing the form, but the final regulation is still being drafted. The public will have a chance to comment on the proposed regulation; a hearing has not yet been scheduled

A recent investigation by The Baltimore Sun noted that board records show that Badr Oweis, a Catonsville-based veterinarian, had been challenged by customers over the treatment he provided and the bills he charged. Oweis was one of seven veterinarians suspended by the board since late 2007.

Oweis charged William and Yvonne Gunn $588 for treating their mixed-breed dog, Smokey, in 2008, board records show. The Gunns said Oweis spayed the dog without their permission and charged significantly more than he had estimated. The Gunns said Oweis was only supposed to treat Smokey for a bleeding paw for about $350 to $360.

After collecting testimony and evidence, the board determined that Oweis penciled in authority to spay Smokey on a handwritten index card after William Gunn had signed the paper. Oweis, who contested the board's findings, did not immediately return a call seeking comment Thursday.

The board also announced at its meeting that beginning Saturday, veterinarians will be able to renew their annual registrations online after they receive a mailing that includes a special code, Runde said.

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