The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has admitted to a significant fall in the numbers of vets joining the profession whilst there has been an increase in the number of animals to treat. The boom in the number of pet owners triggered by the pandemic has had a positive impact on individuals’ mental health as well as helping businesses like Pets at Home smash records by breaking the £1bn sales barrier. Readers of this publication are aware of the knock-on effects for the veterinary profession.
Vet tech includes the development in practice management tools, computer programs, 3D printing, wearable technologies and minimally invasive surgical procedures amongst others. Vet tech has helped to alleviate some of the stresses on the veterinary profession with more innovative ways of treating animals and aiding efficient and cost-effective treatments. The benefits are clear but legal considerations must also be borne in mind when using vet tech.
Key considerations for veterinary practices using vet tech
- Licensing – is the technology used by your practice licensed properly?
Practices should review agreements with tech providers to ensure the technology being utilised has the appropriate consent in place. It is commonplace for contracts to include specific permissions for the use of tech. You may find yourself in breach of contract where vet tech is being used on a certain category of animal as opposed to others.
- Disclaimers – are you using appropriate disclaimers?
The use of technology such as fitness trackers, veterinary radiology and ultrasounds come with a risk of harming, rather than healing, animals. If your practice is supplying technology to customers or using technology during the course of treatment, you should ensure that appropriate disclaimers are signed prior to administering treatment.
- Liability – have you limited your liability in your customer contracts?
While it is tempting to have a clause in your customer contract which aims to disclaim and limit all liability, in reality this will be unenforceable. Firstly, there are various heads of loss which legally cannot be excluded. For example, a seller cannot limit their liability for losses arising out of death or personal injury caused by their negligence or for fraudulent activities.
Secondly, in consumer contracts clauses of this nature are subject to the test of “reasonableness” and this is a question practices should ask themselves when reviewing such clauses. For example, a practice, subject to the exclusions outlined above, seeking to limit liability to £10 where it has provided £1,000 worth of care would likely be deemed unreasonable.
A more reasonable limitation of liability clause is one which seeks to limit liability for losses which are foreseeable. You may decide to use specific examples to demonstrate how the practice uses vet tech and the potential risks of harm to owner and animal.
- Intellectual property – who owns the intellectual property rights in any deliverables produced using vet tech?
The key intellectual property (IP) right associated with the use of technology is copyright. Under English law, the general position is that copyright vests in the creator or author of the works. There are exceptions to this e.g. where an employee develops works during the course of employment, said works vest in the employer. However, in order to preserve and enhance the value of any results produced using vet tech practices need to ensure that IP has been effectively assigned by way of an express assignment of IP.
Most customer relationship management programs and tools will store personal data. The Data Protection Act 2018 and UK GDPR set out the requirements for processing personal data.
To satisfy the requirements of processing, most companies have privacy policies in place demonstrating to customers how their personal data is processed, the legitimate basis for processing and retention periods for processing. To avoid hefty fines from the ICO it is advisable to review how your practice is processing personal data in light of technological advancements.
In conclusion, vet tech is changing the landscape of veterinary treatments but also increasing the exposure to risk; do review you’re your supplier and customer contracts to ensure this exposure is limited.