Say you show up for your annual physical and there’s a poodle wandering around the waiting room. Or a ferret in the hallway outside the bathroom where you’ve just peed into a little plastic cup.
Is that allowed? Can your doctor really bring his pets to the office?
The D.C. Board of Medicine says yes.
The board recently issued a policy statement saying that animals are in fact allowed in physicians’ private-practice offices, as long as the office informs patients ahead of time:
PETS PERMITTED IN A PRIVATE PRACTICE PHYSICIAN’S OFFICE
Private practice physicians may have pets in their medical offices, but they must ensure that patients are informed of the presence of the animal and what type of animal it is before the patients visit the office. Prior notice should be achieved by placing a sign on the door of the office, as well as by informing patients who call the office to make appointments to see the doctor. Additionally, doctors must ensure that the level of cleanliness in the office is appropriate for the practice of medicine, as well as that the animal does not interfere with the doctor’s practice of medicine.
NOTE: Physicians in private practice have an obligation under the American with Disabilities Act to admit guide dogs. This policy statement does not purport to provide guidance in this respect. Please consult your attorney if you have questions regarding this issue.
This matter came before the Board by way of various complaints regarding private practice physicians having pets in their office. The complaints ranged from issues of cleanliness, to patients’ discomfort in the presence of animals, to a patient’s allergies to fur-bearing animals. The regulations governing the practice of medicine do not address animals in a medical office and this policy statement is intended to clarify the matter. The Board wanted to provide notice to private practice physicians that while they are permitted to have pets at work, they must notify patients as to allow those patients to make informed decisions about their healthcare.
Frederick C. Finelli, M.D., J.D.Chairperson
D.C. Board of Medicine
Finelli told City Desk he himself has experience with this issue. About 10 years ago, he sublet space in a medical office where there were, in fact, dogs (not his, he stressed). Some people, he said, complained. Most just petted the dogs.
But the obvious question: Is it really clean enough to be “appropriate for the practice of medicine”?
“I’ve never seen a situation where the pet owner has had a dirty pet,” he said, noting that the animals are not allowed in examination rooms. “These are doctors. They’re very conscious of what they’re doing and what the public perception is.”