Physician Practice

Service animals in the clinic

Medical Environment Update, August 1, 2020

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Balancing patients’ rights and their safety

By Brian Ward

At a Roaring 20s party a few summers ago, I saw a flapper in a sparkly dress dance with her service dog, a husky in a red vest. The woman was having a great time, though the dog seemed confused by the whole situation.

While it was funny to watch then, what if the next day she and her service dog went to your hospital or clinic? Do you know if the dog can ride with her in an ambulance? Is the dog allowed in every area of the hospital? Who takes care of it if the patient becomes incapacitated during care?

Odds are you’ve probably seen service animals working in a variety of places: grocery stores, state fairs, restaurants, airports, offices, hotels, museums, etc. And in (most) situations, these animals don’t pose a problem. However, when anyone brings an animal into a healthcare setting, it’s reasonable to consider if its presence might pose a risk.

While fleas, ticks, mites, and more could undermine a facility’s pest and infection control efforts, facilities must also respect the rights of patients and visitors with disabilities to have service animals. Both The Joint Commission and Medicare Conditions of Participation require that hospitals respect and protect the rights of patients.

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