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Listen. Do you want to know a secret about veterinary confidentiality?
Do you promise not to tell? The information your team members know might be proprietary. Heres what that meansand how you can protect your practice.
A tone sounded on the counter behind her. Cindy reached for her phone. It was a text from her friend Jenny. Could she meet for lunch? Cindy put the small purring cat back into the cage and texted back: OK, if I can get away.
She and Jenny had graduated from the technical program at Valley College. They were still best buds, though they worked at different practices.
The Mexican restaurant was busy, and Jenny had chosen a table in the corner. After they ordered Jenny looked across the table and whispered, “Got some news. Our associate Dr. Flowers is fed up with Dr. Meyer. She really wants to make more. She told me her salary and how much she makes with commissions and benefits. She says it's not enough with her vet school debts and her new mortgage.”
Dr. Flowers had worked for Jenny's clinic for 18 months and seemed to be a great veterinarian. From previous conversations with Jenny, Cindy knew Dr. Flowers was working without a contract because it kept getting put off. Dr. Meyer was nice but known to be pushy about business matters. He was always concerned with profit centers and other boring topics. Dr. Flowers just wanted to concentrate on medicine.
Cindy gave Jenny a knowing glance. “Dr. Meyer doesn't have a clue, does he?” she asked her friend.
“Oh, he thinks he knows what's going on. But the real power in the clinic is the staff, if you know what I mean,” Jenny said. “Here's the deal. Dr. Flowers thinks she might want to work at your clinic. I know Dr. Wheat has been looking for another associate for some time. And if Dr. Flowers is offered a job at your clinic, I want to come with her.
“One more thing,” Jenny said. “I can give you our hourly rate scale and benefits packages. That should help.”
Cindy half-jokingly asked, “Anybody else want to come over to us?”
This happens in clinics more often than you might think. Casual comments and office gossip shared outside hospital walls can be damaging to a small business. The loss of an employee or a veterinarian can be devastating to a one- or two-person practice.
The word “proprietary” implies ownership. And information can be owned. Businesses make money to pay expenses-including employee wages and benefits-and make profits that are mostly plowed back into the business. Information related to this process is a business resource owned by the proprietor. It's kept private to protect the company so the company can remain competitive.
Team members can sometimes be cavalier with their practice's information. But when it affects the life of a business, gossiping is unethical. Most team members don't know some readily available information in their practice is private and shouldn't be divulged. Unless something illegal or morally wrong is occurring, it's employees' duty to keep business information to themselves.
Use these strategies to make sure this doesn't happen at your practice.
Update your handbook. Your employee handbook should include a section on confidentiality the employee signs. You may assign a penalty for violation. And it's wise to ask an attorney to review your entire handbook.
Encourage educational change. Veterinary and technician schools should make this concept a part of their management program. When I searched the curriculum of various technician schools I found only one that addressed this issue.
Make confidentiality a part of your training. After all, you disseminate proprietary information in one form or another every day.
Don't take part. And lastly, resist the temptation to divulge private information from your side or receive it from others.
Dr. David Lane owns and manages two practices in southern Illinois. He has a master's degree in agricultural economics and is a consultant, speaker and author of numerous practice-management articles.