The marketplace of (brilliant veterinary) ideas


Sharing is caringexcept when it isnt. Does a veterinarian own his own tips and tricks?

Getty ImagesDr. Samp owns a successful small animal practice in an upscale neighborhood. He and his staff of four doctors and 16 support personnel are dedicated to fine medicine and attentive client service-so much so that Dr. Samp often finds himself thinking of ways to make his practice more user-friendly for both pets and owners. He thinks of himself as an innovator, and his “practice hacks” are his pride and joy.

Practice hacks? Huh?

When technicians take pets' temperatures, Dr. Samp has them give him the results in a code. This way, the pet owner isn't startled to hear their dog's temperature is 102 degrees. Dr. Samp believes that answering machines directing after-hours callers to unfamiliar clinics is no good, so the doctors keep old-school pagers and respond personally to after-hours calls. Even a little PVC piping added to the shaft of ceiling-hung surgical lights provides a hook for IV bags without cumbersome poles next to the surgery table. None of these are monumental innovations, but they make Dr. Samp proud.

The staff refer to these hacks as “Dr. Sampisms.” Some of the staff work occasional shifts at neighboring clinics to supplement their incomes. Unsurprisingly, some Dr. Samp-isms have been incorporated into the other clinics' routines. One day, Dr. Samp runs into a colleague from one of these clinics, who thanks him for his brilliant little hacks.

On his drive home, Dr. Samp becomes agitated. He's flattered, sure, but still feels his technicians were out of line for sharing his ideas. After all, he knows his hacks keep his clients happy and coming to his clinic. And the fact is, all the clinics in the neighborhood are competing for the same clients. He can't have his staff risking his bottom line!

At the next staff meeting, after discussing routine business matters, Dr. Samp decides now's the time to make his feelings known about the staff sharing his ideas with neighboring veterinary clinics. Rather than taking the risk and having his staff believe that he only cares about the money, he tells them that cases, procedures and clinic equipment were not to be shared with other clinics-it's a confidentiality issue, and a personal preference.

A veteran staff member questions this policy, remarking that sharing information helps pets and the profession as a whole. Dr. Samp responds that he understands her good intentions, but that as the owner he will decide when to personally dispense his ideas to his colleagues. With that, he acknowledges that he will just have to agree to disagree with some of his staff.

So, what do you think? Is Dr. Samp in the wrong?

Rosenberg's response

The fact is, Dr. Samp can make any reasonable rules for employees of his veterinary clinic. Nevertheless, he is faced with two questions: First, was he, or should he have been totally honest at his staff meeting? And secondly, does the sharing of his trade secrets actually hurt or help his practice bottom line?

If he is in fact a well-respected clinic owner, telling his staff that their actions might affect the clinic bottom line is honest and completely understandable. On the other hand, his reputation among his colleagues as an innovative progressive clinician should ultimately help-not hurt-his bottom line. You can never underestimate the potential for referrals and word-of-mouth goodwill that results when you share your ideas with colleagues and the community. I believe Dr. Samp used bad judgment.

Dr. Marc Rosenberg is director of the Voorhees Veterinary Center in Voorhees, N.J. The veterinary practices, doctors and employees described in “The Dilemma” are fictional.

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