Giving Patients The Royal Treatment When It Comes To Privacy

Whenever there is something sensitive that needs to be talked about, make it private don’t let anyone here about it.

So the big news lately is the pregnancy of Kate Middleton, and her subsequent health issues. But then a different story flooded the airwaves when two radio DJ’s posing as the Queen herself asked for an update on Kate’s condition via phone. I won’t even pretend to know exactly how this all happened, but suffice it to say that the screening process of phone calls was not present or sufficient, and the update on Kate’s personal condition went out on the radio waves. This leads me to wonder, how are WE doing with screening who is hearing what, and upholding basic privacy and confidentiality of our patients’ and clients’ information.

Hang out in any veterinary practice lobby, and you can get a good idea of how to answer this question…likely not too well. It’s not difficult for the front office staff to sense an invisible barricade between what gets said behind the counter and what can be heard in the lobby. Guess what, if you’re up front, you are ALWAYS “on stage,” as Disney would say! Other people can hear you, and what you say will affect the reputation of the practice. Other times, it’s just plain rude to make comments regarding clients in front of clients. Why does that happen?

For example, I was visiting my chiropractor and standing at the desk checking out. One of the two receptionists in front of me was on the phone, giving detailed driving instructions for how to get to the office. You could tell the caller was confused, because she had to reiterate the landmarks and how to find the practice. When she hung up, the next two words were certainly noticed and affected my opinion of the staff: “Holy cow!” She said it low, but audible, and what’s worse, in front of me! I was annoyed to say the least, wondering what might have been or will be said about me after I leave. It shouldn’t be that way.

So everything said up front needs to work its way through your mental filters, so you can ensure that the words you are saying need to be said out loud and are not of a personal or confidential nature. These conversations take many shapes: talking to the team members in the back or those passing by the front area, talking on the intercom to the team in back or the doctor’s desk, talking on the phone to a family member regarding the status of their pets, etc. Here are some situations that can complicate our communication:

  • The breeder calls for an update (nervous about outcome and possible return of the animal or the possibility of genetic abnormalities)
  • The wife and husband are now separated and share custody
  • A pet sitter or concerned family friend calls for an update

It is best if any sensitive conversations can happen behind the scenes, maybe in a room behind the front office area, or at least implement a screening process that prevents sensitive conversations from happening within earshot of our clients.

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