Do cameras belong in a veterinary hospital?

dvm360dvm360 July 2019
Volume 50
Issue 6

When medications go missing in a veterinary practice, this owner opts to install a watchful eye in the form of video surveillance.

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Three years ago, Dr. Jim Ray opened a veterinary clinic after working as an associate for eight years at a facility in the next town over. His staff quickly grew from six to 17 in just 36 months.

That's when the trouble started. Dr. Ray's clinic administrator came to him with some troubling news: The drug inventory and controlled substances logs showed missing medications.

Dr. Ray was devastated. Police were called because some of the missing drugs were narcotics. An investigation showed that Dr. Ray's security protocols were practically nonexistent, and the police recommended he install a video surveillance system. After ruminating about how this would never have happened when his clinic was smaller and the staff more intimate, Dr. Ray installed cameras throughout the clinic.

The new cameras saw in light and dark, were triggered by motion and they collected up to 30 days of footage. Dr. Ray sent a memo to all staff members informing them that surveillance was now in place. He went on to say he was sorry he had to take these steps, but circumstances dictated that they were necessary. Finally, he attempted to lighten the mood by telling team members they should feel free to make faces at the camera.

Nevertheless, several of the staff members were concerned. They told Dr. Ray they were disappointed that he felt they couldn't be trusted. In addition, one of his associate veterinarians advised him of a law that prohibited him from recording or listening to any audio the cameras captured. In his state, video surveillance in the workplace was legal with the permission of one party only, but audio recording was prohibited without the permission of all parties concerned. Furthermore, private areas such as restrooms and the break room were totally off limits.

Dr. Ray started to feel like the growth of his practice was a double-edged sword. The intimate trust and collegiality of the small clinic had been replaced by the stricter workplace rules and regulations of a “bigger company.” Dr. Ray reluctantly adjusted to the changes. He wondered if he would ever be able to reestablish his small clinic feeling of intimacy now that his facility had grown larger. He knew the answer was a resounding “no.”

Do you agree with Dr. Ray's choices? Have you had a similar experience? Let us know at

Dr. Rosenberg's response

Small veterinary practices-like other “mom and pop” businesses-are shrinking in number. There are lots of reasons for this. Progressive veterinary technology is expensive. The internet, online pharmacies, increasing healthcare costs and workers' compensation premiums have all stressed small-practice bottom lines.

In spite of all this, I agree with Dr. Ray's choice to install cameras. (You can even consider them in your hospital remodel or new build.) Safety protocols and theft deterrents assist everyone. In addition, the practice leader or leaders need to be ethical, moral and honest role models.

Coworkers are comforted when they can honestly respect practice leadership, and the collegiality that Dr. Ray had with a smaller team doesn't have to disappear with an increase in staff. Over time, morale may get even better, with informal protocols and thoughtless watercooler gossip replaced by interactions and procedures that everyone feels comfortable with.

Dr. Marc Rosenberg is director of the Voorhees Veterinary Center in Voorhees, New Jersey. In his private time, he enjoys playing basketball and swing dancing with his wife. Although many of the scenarios Dr. Rosenberg describes are based on real-life events, the veterinary practices, doctors and employees described are fictional.

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