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Decision making
Comments on the dilemma in the November/December issue: ‘Owner access to isolation facility webcam images’
  1. David Hopper
  1. Horncastle, UK

Abstract

The dilemma in the November/December issue concerned a practice that had recently installed webcams to monitor its patients in an isolation facility where human and animal contact had to be kept to a minimum (In Practice, November/December 2011, volume 33, pages 558–559). Susana Silva discussed the issue of whether or not owners should be allowed access to such images. She argued that the relationship between humans and their animals had changed greatly over the past few decades and that, now, they were usually regarded as family members. As such, people tended to be very concerned about the welfare and quality of life of their pet when it was in an isolation facility. It was good practice to discuss with the owners what type of care was going to be provided so as not to give them false expectations, and to allow them to visit the facility before their pet was admitted. Allowing owners to view video footage of their pet in isolation could have variable outcomes. Some would feel reassured while others might become anxious about their pet's altered behaviour or about protocols that might be in place to keep human contact with the animal to a minimum. A compromise might be to allow the owner to see a short video of a couple of minutes per day, rather than a live stream, thus allowing the vet to decide which footage was most appropriate for which client. Although partial access had the potential for the owner to accuse the vet of censoring, vets were not currently legally obliged to allow access to such images.

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David Hopper comments: The proposal of an owner having access to live webcam pictures to view their pet during its stay at the veterinary surgery is, in my opinion, daft. It is intrusive and open to misinterpretation. Since the majority of the time in kennels is spent resting, it would make rather dull viewing as well, unless edited highlights were made available of course.

There is normally no direct communication, which means that the fears of the viewer could not be allayed nor any misinterpretation corrected while the event is happening. Certainly, seeing vets and nurses carrying out procedures such as taking samples or resuscitation, for example, could be distressing for the viewer. It may also create problems for members of staff on duty who may feel inhibited to carry out their normal duties in front of the cameras for fear of scrutiny by those viewers who may not understand or appreciate what they are trying to do.

Some people are unable to cope with medical situations, especially those involving loved ones. Unfortunately, a few may not realise this until it is happening to them. Over the years I have had to pick many big burly farmers up off the floor of the operating theatre during sheep caesarean sections when they had fainted.

The security of a webcam system would be difficult. How would you prevent the wrong people seeing the images? A child could inadvertently view them on the owner's computer and find them distressing. Images could be uploaded onto the internet for a variety of reasons. Could such images be used in litigation where vets were accused of alleged misconduct?

I believe a client should have enough confidence in their vet to trust their loved ones to the vet's care. Often, they don't want to see or hear about the grim reality or a ‘blow by blow’ account. They just want assurance that everything possible is being done for their pet and they want to be kept regularly informed of progress, whether good or bad. Even if the outcome is not what everyone hoped for, most owners are content that this is the case after the event.

Have you faced a dilemma that you would like considered in a future instalment of Everyday Ethics? If so, e-mail a brief outline to inpractice{at}bva-edit.co.uk. We pay a small honorarium for contributions that are published.

Notes

THIS series gives readers the opportunity to consider and contribute to discussion of some of the ethical dilemmas that can arise in veterinary practice. Each month, a case scenario is presented, followed by discussion of some of the issues involved. In addition, a possible way forward is suggested; however, there is rarely a cut-and-dried answer in such cases, and readers may wish to suggest an alternative approach. This month's dilemma, ‘Promoting personal views in practice’, is presented and discussed by Paul Roger. Readers with comments to contribute are invited to send them as soon as possible, so that they can be considered for publication in the next issue. Discussion of the dilemma ‘Owner access to isolation facility webcam images’, which was published in the November/December issue of In Practice, appears on page 55.

The series is being coordinated by Siobhan Mullan, of the University of Bristol. It is hoped it will provide a framework that will help practices find solutions when facing similar dilemmas.

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