FAQs for the veterinarian
The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) are responsible for the registration of veterinary medicines and adverse experiences should be reported directly to them.
The APVMA have an adverse experience reporting page on their website. Both veterinarians and the general public can submit an adverse experience report at any time using the APVMA online adverse experience reporting tool.
The APVMA evaluates all submissions and then deals directly with the product registration holder to ensure the adverse experience is investigated appropriately.
Clients are entitled to request a prescription for their animal. In most states and territories in Australia, you do not have to issue the client with a prescription when requested, however, the risk of not providing the prescription is that the client is more likely to find another veterinarian in your area who is happy to write prescriptions. In Victoria, the Veterinary Board’s Guidelines states “Where treatment with a scheduled drug is indicated and a client requests a written prescription for the drug, practitioners are expected to provide a prescription to enable the animal to receive the recommended treatment.” As such, in Victoria you should provide a script when requested, unless you have a strong justification for not doing so; otherwise you may be found to have acted unprofessionally.
When providing a script for any prescription medication you must ensure you satisfy all the legislative requirements in your particular state or territory. All jurisdictions require you to: only prescribe medications to patients under your care; only prescribe medications that are indicated; and in a quantity appropriate to the therapeutic need.
If you are providing on-demand prescriptions, keep the following in mind:
- You are entitled to charge a prescription fee for your time and your professional expertise.
- It is good practice not to prescribe repeats past the date that the patient should return for a re-check.
- It is worthwhile pointing out to the animal owner that if the supplier is overseas: it may be illegal to import the medication*; if the medication isn’t properly shipped (for example it gets too hot or cold) it may be defective; Australian authorities do not have jurisdiction to prosecute if their animal experiences an adverse reaction; and there is no protection if something does go wrong.
- Some medications cannot be provided by script, such as some drugs of addiction.
- You should review the owner’s ability to comply with the instructions for safe use just as if you would if you were dispensing the medication directly.
* Under section 69B of the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals (Administration) Act 2004, veterinary drugs cannot be imported from overseas if a registered form of this drug is available in Australia.
All veterinarians fully registered by a State or Territory Veterinary Board in Australia are able to prepare companion animals such as dogs, cats and pet birds for export from Australia. However, you should only prepare animals for export once you are familiar with Australia’s animal health certification system. The export of companion animals is highly regulated. It is essential that you have a comprehensive understanding of the legislative framework, and that you comply with it.
You will need to prepare animals to meet the requirements of the specific importing country.
Pre-export preparation of companion animals includes:
- carrying out laboratory testing of animals in accordance with importing country requirements
- carrying out specified pre-export treatments
- performing the final pre-export health inspection
- inspecting transport cages.
If the importing country requires a rabies vaccination you will find details on how to access the vaccine; what to do if the animal is to return to Australia and other information in the Information Pack. Rabies vaccines are not available for general use in Australia. There are strict controls on the use of the rabies vaccine in Australia. Rabies vaccines can be used by registered veterinarians when preparing dogs and cats for export. Other situations where rabies vaccines can be used are under the control and direction of a State/Territory Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO) and details of this are not covered here.
Intervet Australia Pty Ltd is authorised to supply Nobivac Rabies vaccine to registered veterinarians. Registered veterinarians must provide a declaration to Intervet Australia confirming that the vaccine will only be used in dogs and cats that are to be exported from Australia. The validity period for the Nobivac rabies vaccination is three (3) years.
Comprehensive information on veterinary responsibilities and procedures can be found at:
How can you reduce the risk of a client complaining about charges and refusing to pay?
Managing customer’s expectations when it comes to fees and payments is an ongoing challenge for veterinarians. Here are some tips to help guard yourself and your practice against having the client quibble about the bill, or worse still, refuse to pay:
- Discuss money up front: It’s easier to discuss money before commencing treatment so that both you and the customer are on the same page prior to you incurring any expense or investing time in treating the patient.
- Provide a treatment plan: Your treatment plan should provide an estimated cost with a high and low range, that includes the exam, lab work, X-rays and other diagnostic procedures, and medication. Where possible the treatment plan should be itemised. To make this an efficient process, consider setting up standard treatment plans in your veterinary software.
- Obtain a deposit: This should be standard practice for treatments expected to exceed $300, especially with new customers.
- Offer regular updates for hospitalised patients: Daily financial updates will eliminate the shock of a higher than expected bill at the end of the treatment. Start the financial update with some medical and behavioral information. These calls not only protect you from the risk of non-payment, they also provide comfort to the owner and gives them the experience of personalised and dedicated customer service. Record your discussions around charges in the medical record.
- Financial policy: Have a clear financial policy and communicate it to your clients up front. One easy way to do this is by including your financial policy on your intake form. In some cases, it may be helpful to run through this clause verbally with new clients. The financial policy should clearly state details about the deposit expected, and when other payments are to be paid and methods of payment options.
- If your practice accepts some accounts, have a clear policy. This policy should include what qualifies the client for an account, what amount can be put on an account and the expected payment terms.
- Have a designated team member to take control of accounts receivable: Make sure that accounts receivable are being closely monitored by a designated member of your staff.
- Pet Insurance: Encourage all your customers to obtain pet insurance in your first consultation with them. This will make it much easier to discuss expensive treatments if the need should arise down the track.
If you do find yourself discussing the inability to pay for treatment with a customer, these are some options you may consider:
- Investigate payment options or plans. These could include payment by instalments or utilising a 3rd party platform such as Vetpay
- Consider taking on the work pro-bono if the circumstances point to that as a one-off possibility. Ensure that you are not setting a dangerous precedent of offering free service.
- Refer to Animal Welfare League to see if they have a solution
Homelessness and disadvantaged pet owners:
Additional consideration needs to be given in situations where the owner is homeless or suffering from poor mental health. There are several sites that contribute to providing veterinary care for companion animals that accompany homeless folk:
- Pets of the Homeless Australia – can provide food, emergency shelter and veterinary care for the homeless and their pets
- Pets in the Park Australia – is dedicated to veterinary health clinics for pets of the homeless but not providing food or shelter
- Act Pet Crisis Fund – who help pensioners and disadvantaged pet owners in the Canberra community
If the situation is desperate and the owner does not appear to have the means to support the animal long-term (or that the treatment requires long-term rehabilitation or remediation) you may need to discuss surrendering and rehoming options for the welfare of the animal.
If you or your staff feel unsafe, contact emergency on 000, your Police Local Area Command (LAC) or the Police Information Line on 131 444 for a confidential discussion.
Sometimes, circumstances outside of your control may result in an escalation or behaviour or emotional exchange with a client. In extreme circumstances, personal threats may be received. In such cases protecting your staff, your clients and yourself are your priority.
Client aggression may result in injury to employees. Victims may suffer not only physical injury, but also psychological effects, such as anxiety and stress.
Factors which can increase the risk of violence and client aggression include situations where there are:
- Emotionally charged states particularly around death, grief, or unexpected injury of an animal
- Financial constraints and disputes over the bill
- Miscommunication and unrealistic expectations
- Long waiting times for customers and poor customer service
- Influence of drugs, alcohol or mental health issues
- When the aggressive response is reciprocated.
There are a number of control measures that can be put in place to protect you and your staff from confrontational and violent behavior:
- Employees should have a safe place to retreat to such as lockable doors to treatment areas to prevent the client from entering the work space
- Ability to quickly lock all entrances and exits to the practice
- Duress alarms and internal/external communication systems that are regularly tested
- Counters that give staff more protection
- Safe, well-lit parking available for employees.
- Developing practice procedures to inform workers how to respond to threats from clients
- Emergency numbers (police, ambulance, etc) are clearly posted at reception and other areas of the practice as needed
- Work practices are evaluated to see if they contribute to triggers of aggression
In addition, support should be provided to all employees following any interactions with aggressive clients by:
- Allowing your employees a break if needed following interactions with aggressive clients
- Debrief with other team members – victims will need to talk through their experience as soon as possible after the event. Remember that verbal abuse can often be just as upsetting as a physical attack
- Train and supply information to employees about how to spot the early signs of aggression, how to de-escalate potentially aggressive situations and procedures to take in case
- Provide access to counselling services if needed. Contact the AVA Telephone Counselling Service on 1300 687 327 which is free to AVA members
According the Department of Health and Human Services when dealing with a customer who has a communication impairment, patience is key. Be flexible and communicate in accordance with the person’s cues.
If you are speaking, don’t assume you need to speak loudly or slowly. Simply talk at a normal volume and check the person has understood each point before continuing on.
When listening, be patient and always allow them to finish their sentences without interrupting. Ask politely to repeat what has been said if you didn’t understand. It may be helpful to offer a pen and paper, or to ask questions in a way that they can be answered with a short answer or gesture.
The Australian Government has support services for people with hearing impairments. The National Relay Service (NRS) is available nation-wide to assist people with communication difficulties and AUSLAN (Australian Sign Language) interpretation services is available for those who primarily communicate in AUSLAN.
Keep in mind that the decision to use social media for your practice should be well thought out and based on a clear business plan that considers the benefits and risks. Don’t fall into the trap of being on social media just because you think everyone else is.
Due to the reputational risks associated with social media interactions, it’s very important that businesses have a clear process for who is responsible for posting and responding on social media. Consider training the relevant staff member if need be.
If a customer voices negative feedback on social media:
- Respond as quickly as possible
- Be polite and understanding, creating empathy around their frustration and upset
- Don’t take it personally. Stay calm and don’t take their vent on board
- Apologise and provide a solution. Don’t give excuses
- Correct misinformation. Disgruntled customers may exaggerate to get their point across. When communicating in a public space try to temper the details and clarify any miscommunication.
- After your initial public response, steer the conversation offline so that you can communicate privately to resolve their complaint
All radiation sources need to be registered with the appropriate commonwealth, state or territory authority. This includes Class 4 lasers, Class 3B lasers with an average output power greater than 5 mW, single pulsed Class 3B lasers and UV emitting transilluminators. Ultrasound machines do not need to be registered. Individual veterinarians must also hold a licence to operate radiographic x-ray equipment. Information relating to the registration and licencing requirements can be found at:
Certain other devices and equipment used to assist in veterinary medical or surgical procedures require registration with Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA).
Devices that are chemically inert and act by physical rather than biochemical means and make no claim other than that arising from their physical action, generally do not require registration.
Equipment that produces or emits sound, light or electromagnetic radiation does not require registration by the APVMA. Other government authorities regulate some of this equipment, including X-ray machines. However, if the equipment produces a substance that has a biochemical action—for example an antiseptic teat dip—the equipment would need to be approved as part of the approval for the substance it produces.
For the further details please refer to APVMA website.