Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Duplication is Prescribed For X-Ray Ownership Question

Pet Column for the week of April 16, 2001

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
By Carrie Gustavson
Information Specialist

Picture this. A horse owner seeks a second veterinarian's opinion, or wants to compare recent radiographs (X rays) with those taken months or years back, or has moved and wants a new veterinarian to be familiar with her horse's problems. The owner feels that since she paid for the radiographs taken by her present veterinarian, she is entitled to them.

When you pay a photographer to take your picture, you usually get to keep the pictures. That's why it seems logical that when a veterinarian takes radiographs of an animal, the owner would be entitled to own those radiographs as well.

"Actually, the diagnosis, which is based on the radiographs, is the service for which the client has paid," says Dr. David Freeman, equine surgeon at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana. "The images themselves remain the property of the veterinarian who ordered or took the radiographs."

The reason for this involves a bit of legalese and mention of various state and federal laws. But what it comes down to is this: all veterinarians have to keep medical records around for a while-each state specifies how long-and radiographs are considered part of that record. A veterinarian can't legally part with the originals.

Fortunately modern technology provides several solutions that beat repeating the X-rays entirely. Radiographs can easily be copied. "Owners should rest assured that the quality of the copies is usually excellent. If the radiographs are stored as digital images, copies will be as good as originals," says Dr. Freeman. Keep in mind that the duplication process may take a few days, and there may be a charge.

If anyone besides the owner, such as a trainer or future buyer, would also like copies of radiographs, the owner must give written permission to the veterinarian with the original radiograph before duplicates are provided.

"Unfortunately, some owners and trainers have received the original radiographs in the past and may think this is the normal procedure. Many horse owners are concerned that if they don't obtain the originals, the horse's problems might be revealed to potential buyers. Veterinarians are not allowed to disclose any health information about a horse without the owner's written permission," says Dr. Freeman.

In this day of easy duplication of images, there is little reason why owners can't have all the information they need while the veterinarian upholds the professional requirements for maintaining a complete medical history on the horse.

For more information about radiograph duplication, contact your local equine veterinarian.