Flirting with Disaster

By: Debbie Boone, BS, CVPM 

I sat in on a panel discussion about data.  Now this subject alone may turn you off and appear to be a potential snooze fest but give me a minute.  The discussion was about what happens to your practice data when outside parties like online pharmacies and apps have access.  A lot of really great comments were made because this is a little scary if you stop to consider what COULD happen.  I think many of us are familiar with the unfortunate emails that went out to veterinary clients when Vets First Choice and Henry Schein became Covetrus.  Data breach or crazy human error – either way this client solicitation made a lot of us step up and pay attention.   

I learned that because of very strict compliance rules that big pharmaceutical companies who have mailing or emailing programs to your customers are only allowed access to that data as an aggregate.  In other words, they can tally up how many purchases or coupons were utilized in a mailing for ROI but they can’t have a list of the names of the people who used the coupons.  New laws are coming into effect in the UK and US to better protect our data privacy – Google just had to pay a very large fine because they didn’t comply in time in the UK.   But how about all the others we allow in our data? 

The key to what these companies can gather and possibly sell to 3rd parties is listed in your purchase agreement.  You know the one you never read and just sign.  The one you should have paid a lawyer to review.  Just sayin…

The truth is – DATA IS VALUABLE.  Say as an example, you sign an agreement with your software provider.  This agreement discusses the terms of the sale, how much quarterly support will cost you, updates, hardware requirements, etc.  These are all things you will read because they are up front and out of pocket expenses.  But, you are also happy that your PIMS provider will give you a dashboard to compare your practice with others in you geographic area… cool data.  Now what if in your agreement they give themselves permission to share this mined data with 3rd parties – like marketing companies – and they get paid for it.  Because they do.  Data is worth money!  However, it is YOUR data.  Should you be the one selling it and profiting?  Maybe so. 

My friend Michael, the CEO of Stokes Pharmacy, shared a very interesting data story with me when we were chatting about the panel.  He owned an independent pharmacy for 15 years before going to Stokes.  There was a company that gathered and shared data on pharmacies – just like that Dashboard I mentioned.  Independent pharmacies shared their sales and income data in order to receive it on all the other pharmacies in the area.  On the surface this seems like a great idea.  Basically, there is someone doing the “phone shopping” for you so you can see where you stand.  Michael never shared his data.  He wisely kept his success under his hat because if he had shared how well his business was doing a big company like CVS or Walgreens would have been able to “see” how much revenue he was generating and then opened a store in his back yard.  By keeping his data private he was able to keep his business and sell it to another pharmacist at a good price because of the lack of big competitors.

We all seek to drive client engagement on Facebook and the more our clients LIKE our page the better.  Guess what.  Facebook is also in the data selling business and all those clients who “like” veterinary practices are now shared and targeted by Chewy and Blue Buffalo ads.  I know I have personally been “stalked” on Facebook by a pair of snow boots I looked at a couple of times.  I am sure you have had similar assaults by the advertising algorithm.  Hummmm.  Maybe we should create our own private group page on a platform that doesn’t stalk our clients and make it exclusive to our hospital?  They get great information from us and no bombardment from ads.   I am not a social media guru but I do know this is possible and if I was managing a hospital I would certainly be exploring this.  I agree Facebook and Instagram – now possibly TicTok (yes we now have something else to learn) can influence new clients our way but then lets really engage with them on something special.  Tell them why you are inviting them to this exclusive page and give them meaty content that helps them be great pet owners.  You know – SCIENCE based facts. 😊  

I love VetSuccess and all those lovely compliance and lost opportunity reports and bless their company President Martin Traube-Werner’s insistence that their agreement be in “real people language” rather than “lawyer speak” so decision makers can understand what they are agreeing to.  I read VitusVet’s End User License Agreement and it was clear and understandable. Maybe this will wear off on other companies. 

I am not trying to scare anyone away from technology.  Heck, I love all my techy tools and couldn’t function without them.  What I am saying is READ the FINE PRINT and be smart about what you are signing away.  Oh, and free stuff online is not really free.  Yes, that is correct, they are mining and selling your data.

PS: The US Government issued a warning to all it’s employees to NOT download and use TicTok as it is a Chinese based company and by Chinese law is required to share data with the Chinese government. I uninstalled it immediately.  Not to mention I have seen little content of value and only people being mean to animals and each other …not what I want in my life. Bye Bye Felicia!