Professional liability insurance for virtual care

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Professional liability insurance for virtual care - A vet holding a clipboard with the title of the article to the left

One of the things you’ll notice when using the Vetster platform to practice virtually, is that the tools are purpose-built to ensure you are able to deliver a medically sound, safe and ethical service for your clients. Virtual care shares many similarities with traditional practice - taking a comprehensive history, educating pet owners, providing treatment plans, and doing follow ups.

The importance of protecting your business and licensure with professional liability insurance is also equally important in a virtual space.

Vetster’s $5M Professional Liability Insurance

It may be perceived that because an appointment is virtual there is a difference in the level of service that is provided, or the seriousness of the service, but nothing could be further from the truth. Professional services delivered by a licensed veterinarian are required to be medically appropriate in all venues and circumstances, including telehealth, telemedicine, triage and general advice.

This is why, in addition to your own professional liability insurance, Vetster’s holds a $5M liability insurance policy that extends your coverage in the unfortunate event that a pet owner makes a claim related to the service you provide.

It is important to understand however, that this does not replace the need for your own practice liability insurance. There are three reasons you need your own practice liability insurance:

  1. Comprehensive coverage - If you practice outside of the Vetster platform, it is imperative to hold your own insurance policy so that you are fully protected in all services you provide.
  2. Protecting your license - Protecting your license against any claim made directly to your regulatory body is critical and will protect your business and personal liability.
  3. Vetster Practice Standards - To practice on Vetster, we require all veterinary professionals to hold their own professional liability insurance.

Why is liability insurance needed in a virtual service?

Providing virtual services of any kind as a veterinarian brings with it an expectation of appropriate medical care. Telemedicine is a regulated professional service and even though you never touch the pet, the seriousness of the service you provide is no less significant. As a professional, you  are still vulnerable even if you provide only general advice/information or teletriage. This means that all veterinarians on Vetster, regardless of scope of practice, need their own professional liability insurance.

Vetster’s terms of use require veterinarians to agree that they have or will obtain the appropriate professional liability insurance coverage and maintain adequate insurance coverage while they list their services through the site. Vets agree to provide Vetster with copies of relevant proof of coverage upon request.

The best way to protect your license against charges of professional malpractice or negligence is to have your own professional liability policy from a company that provides specific coverage for veterinarians. Just like in brick-and-mortar practice, you need to have your own policy with your name on it, even if the clinic carries one. Some policies only cover in-person care, so be sure to verify that your carrier covers activities related to veterinary telehealth and telemedicine.

Why you should have your own professional liability insurance

Historically, malpractice insurance was less common in the veterinary industry as animals were considered property and thus only a replacement fee would apply in the event an animal was harmed or died during treatment.

Changing attitudes toward pets have courts hearing more cases for veterinary malpractice and negligence similar to what physicians have endured since the 1960s.  With progressive countries like Brussels, New Zealand, and France now considering animals as sentient beings, we expect the legal system to continue this trend in how it treats claims against veterinarians.

Generally, professional liability insurance provides financial support for claims of negligence against a business. For example, if you owned a hardware store and a customer slipped on the ice on their way out of the store, they could make a complaint of negligence against you for failing to keep the sidewalk clear. A regular professional liability policy would provide coverage for that claim.

Many veterinary-specific products go a step beyond and provide additional support to:

  • Protect your license
  • Vigorously defend against malpractice claims
  • Use claims adjusters familiar with veterinary practice
  • Refuse to settle a claim without your consent
  • Cover court costs and defense attorney fees
  • Provide expert witnesses to testify on your behalf
  • Educate you on how to avoid malpractice claims

Where to buy professional liability insurance?

Veterinarians seeking professional liability insurance tailored to their needs can explore several specialized insurance providers. The AVMA Professional Liability Trust is one example of a veterinarian-specific product offered by a professional association. The AVMA-PLIT website also does a good job explaining what to look for in a policy.  The Hartford is partnered with the AMVA and offers veterinary professional liability policies as well. For maximum protection, choose a policy that includes coverage for license defense and telemedicine services. It is advisable for veterinarians to consult with an insurance broker or agent who specializes in veterinary insurance to ensure they obtain a policy that meets their specific requirements and offers comprehensive coverage for their practice.

Veterinarians in Canada can obtain professional liability insurance through the CVMA Insurance Program, offered by Western Financial Group in partnership with the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. This program provides comprehensive coverage tailored to veterinarians, including professional liability, legal expense coverage for license defense, and cyber liability.