Veterinary practice employees spend substantial amounts of time recording patient medical and medication information, managing callbacks and reminders, ordering medication and supplies, and performing a myriad of other tasks that add to the information that practices have about their patients and clients. In the past, veterinary practices would collect and maintain this information in paper format. Nowadays, of course, such information is more commonly stored electronically in a practice management or practice support software system.
This electronic practice information can be quite valuable. It can, for example, be used to improve patient care, increase practice efficiency, create new business opportunities, and allow practices to compete with online retailers. However, it can also create business challenges and risks that veterinarians may not have considered. Most importantly, when collecting, maintaining, and using practice data, particularly patient medical records, veterinarians must comply with multiple veterinary ethical principles and state and federal laws and regulations, which sometimes overlap or conflict. Although these requirements may seem overwhelming or impossible to satisfy, obtaining proper client consent can address many of the biggest concerns.
With the ongoing digitization of veterinary practices, veterinarians should be aware of the value associated with their practice data and should understand why vendors and software providers might be keenly interested in obtaining access to or the right to use that data. They should also appreciate their legal obligations under their state's veterinary practice act and local, state, and federal consumer protection laws.
The research for this article was supported by Veterinary Study Groups Inc as part of a broader research project concerning principles of ownership of veterinary practice data. Mr. Aaron and Ms. Kohlstrand are attorneys who represent Veterinary Study Groups Inc in various matters, including matters related to data ownership and use, and Dr. Welborn and Mr. Curvey are senior executives of Veterinary Study Groups Inc.
The authors appreciate the comments of Dr. Michael Thomas and other anonymous reviewers who provided their thoughts and comments on earlier versions of this article.
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