Receptionist calls rock star clients home numberand the practice owner gets a letter from the state veterinary board.
This rock star client was not happy about a veterinary receptionist's call to his home. (Getty Images)Haywood Veterinary Clinic was located in an affluent West Coast suburb. Dr. Haywood had two associates, five technicians and four receptionists. After 15 years he saw his clinic as a well-oiled machine. The clinic atmosphere was congenial and informal, yet all the staff members knew their responsibilities and were highly efficient.
The clinic clientele was a mixture of senior retirees, suburban families, and a fair number of the “rich and famous.” Claire was the chief clinic receptionist. It was her responsibility to coordinate the very active front desk. Between getting pet information, sending email reminders and greeting pets and people, it seemed as if her day was never done.
One of Haywood Veterinary Clinic's high-profile clients recently visited with his new puppy. It had been some years, but Claire thought she recognized the now-famous personality from her days at the local community college. She was thrilled. She hadn't realized the fellow she knew at community college was now a big star. She thought it would be a neighborly gesture if she called his home, renewed their acquaintance and advised him of her pet-sitting availability.
So Claire accessed the client's file and noted that he actually owned two dogs, and his wife Janine had a cat. She put in a call to his home and reached voicemail. She stated that this was Claire calling from Haywood Veterinary Clinic, recounted her remembrance of being a community college classmate, and went on to say that she was available if he or Janine wanted to use her pet sitter services. She ended by saying it would be nice to catch up sometime on old times.
Not long after that Dr. Haywood received a message that the celebrity's wife had called asking to speak to him. The practice owner returned the call. When he did he got quite an earful. The client was upset that the personal information in their patient record files had been used to contact them for nonveterinary patient business. She went on to state that his employee was in fact stalking her rock star husband. Dr. Haywood responded by saying he was disappointed this had happened and would look into it immediately.
When Dr. Haywood spoke to Claire, she admitted to calling the client but insisted that her intentions were admirable and that the use of the word “stalking” was absurd. Dr. Haywood advised her that all client medical record information was confidential and should not be accessed for personal use.
But Claire did not believe her use of the information was personal since she was calling to offer pet sitting services. Dr. Haywood was insistent. He thought a client apology was in order and Claire reluctantly acceded to his wishes. It would have been nice if things ended there, but the dreaded letter from the state board arrived a week later.
The client accused Dr. Haywood of professional misconduct in that he allowed his staff to use confidential client record information for personal use. This led to an invasion of privacy and unwanted solicitation. Dr. Haywood responded by acknowledging the fact that a staff member had used the client record. He maintained that her intentions were benign and she was only offering pet related services. Nevertheless, he had instructed his staff to respect the confidentiality of client information in the veterinary records and would continue to do so.
The board responded in a letter stating that the licensee was responsible to inform all staff members of the confidential nature of clients' personal information. Utilizing this information for nonveterinary purposes was in fact unprofessional behavior and a violation of the state practice act. That said, Dr. Haywood could not be held directly accountable for the actions and poor judgment of his receptionist. After the issuance of the board's letter of advisement, the matter was considered closed.
Do you agree with the board's position?
Unfortunately, identity theft, stalking and criminal deception have become commonplace in 2016. As a rule, we really don't think these things are an issue in our veterinary clinics. Yet it's always better to be safe than sorry.
Clinicians should advise staff members to respect client record information, just as we should see that all controlled substances are kept under lock and key and prescription pads are not left lying around. In my view, the board offered sound advice and appropriately declined to impose any sanctions. The celebrity clients overreacted and the receptionist used poor judgement, but fortunately no true harm was done. That's showbiz!
Dr. Marc Rosenberg is director of the Voorhees Veterinary Center in Voorhees, N.J. Although many of his scenarios in “The Dilemma” are based on real-life events, the veterinary practices, doctors and employees described are fictional.