AAEP to Address Vet-Trainer-Owner Issues

Organization scheduled to compete best practice document early in 2010.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners issued a “white paper” earlier this year designed to provide the Thoroughbred industry with veterinary guidance on many issues affecting racing and the health and care of the racehorse. But the completion of that didn’t mark the end of the organization’s efforts to help the sport make changes for the better and advance the practice of veterinary medicine.

Dr. Scott Palmer, chair of the AAEP’s Racing Committee, said work is nearly complete on a best practice paper that will set standards within the veterinary community for how racehorses are treated for various conditions. The organization also has plans to address the veterinarian-trainer-owner relationship and make recommendations about how it can function more smoothly.

“We need to be cleaning our own house and working internally to do what we can to improve the veterinary business model,” Palmer said. “The term ‘best practice’ is used in other industries to define recommendations for what the ideal would be. This isn’t a perfect world, so the other aspect of our goal is that we have to define best practice in a realistic way so that we can get buy-in from the people who are involved. It’s all well and good for us to take an ivory tower approach to a problem and say this is the best thing we should be doing, but if we can’t do it, whether it’s for economic reasons or for logistical reasons, then we have to find some sort of middle ground without lowering the bar so much that it’s not a ‘best practice.’ ”

The Racing Committee planned to have the best practice document ready for the AAEP’s leadership and membership to review during the organization’s 55th annual convention, which was held Dec. 5-9 in Las Vegas. But the process, Palmer said, was slowed down by a need to address the differences between Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing and the challenge of coming up with “guidelines that might be helpful, but aren’t arbitrary” for medical issues and treatments on which little scientific research has been completed.

The veterinarian-trainer-owner relationship is an important issue because the traditional way it operates can create misunderstandings, according to Palmer.

 “We are hired by the trainer for the most part, but we are paid by the owner for the most part,” said the New Jersey-based veterinarian. “It’s a problem at times, and other times it works like a charm. One of the biggest complaints we’ve heard from owners through the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and The Jockey Club is ‘I get a bill that has a list of treatments, but I don’t know what my horse is being treated for and I’m concerned about that.’ One of the things we’re going to do is encourage veterinarians to construct their billing procedures  in such a way that there is more information contained in a  bill. There won’t be a complete medical record of the horse, but there will at least be some information that will indicate to the owner what the diagnosis is and that can lead to some discussion, perhaps.”

Plans call for the best practice document to be completed in early in 2010. The AAEP wants to hold a summit involving veterinarians, trainers, and owners next year, Palmer said, and develop a DVD about the AAEP’s point of view on the relationship between the three parties that would be distributed to owners and trainers.

The white paper “is going to do three things at least,” Palmer said. “The first thing it is going to do is provide help and support for the veterinarians who are trying to do the right thing at the racetrack. That’s hugely important because they are out on a limb right now and have nobody to help them. If they don’t want to do something because they think it’s wrong, there is nothing to back them up. The second thing the white paper is going to do is it’s going to give us integrity with our industry partners as we move forward in this process (of industry reform) because they will know that veterinarians are taking steps to take care of our portion of the problem and deal with it. The third thing it is going to do is it’s going to give the public, if it’s interested, an opportunity to see veterinarians are concerned about the issues, we’re working on them, and we’re doing everything we can to support the health and welfare of the horse in the process.”