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An Updated Look at Veterinary Hospital Data—And How We Keep Yours Safe

An Updated Look at Veterinary Hospital Data—And How We Keep Yours Safe

When we look back on this decade (or two), I’m convinced we’ll see it as a transformative time for the veterinary industry.

Business is booming and caseloads are soaring, yet staffing is difficult and workflows are completely upended.

Over the past year, we’ve worked with hundreds of veterinary leaders at hospitals and hospital groups and have seen the endless number of challenges you are tackling.

Many centers are furiously working to either switch from paper or replace older tools with newer digital systems like Instinct to help with the challenges they’re facing right now. 👏

We feel your urgency, and it’s the reason we’re hard at work building Instinct into the modern toolbox for veterinary centers of the future.

But as the industry transitions digitally en masse, warning signs are flashing for an emerging problem: responsible veterinary hospital data stewardship.

Since the early days at Instinct, we’ve thought of ourselves as crucial guardians of veterinary hospital data.

We field a lot of questions about data protection and how hospitals (whether they use Instinct or not) should be thinking about data, so we wanted to dedicate some Pick the Brain time to it.

Here’s a summary of why data stewardship matters—and what we’re doing about it. As always, we hope it helps. 🧡

🧐 Data... What?

Stewardship. Perhaps best defined as “careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.”

Think about using a storage unit. You put items, sometimes valuable ones, in the unit and lock it. You and your family access it along the way.

You (rightly) expect that even though you don’t own the walls of the storage unit, the company that does won’t sell anyone else a key to access your stuff. They won’t, for example, go through a filing cabinet you put there, make copies, and resell some of it. Or mark out names, mix your files with the contents of other units, and repackage all of the information for the highest bidder—or to help their other business units sell you more services.

As long as you pay the bill, you expect it to stay in good order and not be used, accessed, or viewed. It’s yours!

As veterinary hospitals transition to the cloud (and we think you should!), unfortunately that’s exactly what some of your vendor agreements allow companies to do. 😧

💰 Hospital Data Is Valuable Currency

Look, we get it. Protecting your data (business, staff, client, patient) is probably not a concern you need to add to your current list.

But we think you should. Industry consolidation is occurring more frequently and this includes not only veterinary practices but also industry players (including several software companies, some even now owned by your competitors).

You’d think it would be standard for veterinary software companies to protect hospital data by default; sadly, it is not. There are few regulations in place, which means companies can establish their own data protection standards with little oversight.

This means it’s on you.

Your data is extremely valuable, and the more your service providers can access, the more control they have over you, your ancillary services, your prices, valuation, and sometimes, how you compete with other hospitals in your market.

This is especially important when it comes to your practice’s lifeblood: your practice management software and anything you connect to it.

👩‍⚕️ The AVMA’s Position

In 2019, the AVMA did a great job stepping up with their Principles of Veterinary Data Ownership and Stewardship. It’s simple, practical, and veterinarian-first.

But it’s only as good as those who follow it. Is it part of your agreements with your critical service providers?

💙 What Instinct Is Doing

First of all, since the early days, all Instinct products have held veterinary hospital data protection at the center of everything we do. We’ve even applied human hospital HIPAA-level principles to everything we can, from our server and database setup to the access limitations and strict training we give our team.

Second, we remain one of the few veterinary software companies that go the extra mile to facilitate the strictest data privacy law compliance for every hospital. This includes incorporating Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA)—plus any new regulations that become law.

Earlier this year we announced that we launched Instinct EMR, our new, ever-growing, and future-minded practice management software built out of our Treatment Plan platform.

We know we have an even bigger responsibility for data stewardship now.

So last year we updated our standard hospital agreements to more clearly protect our hospitals now and in the future. (Instinct  users can see section 6.1 “Commitment to Responsible Data Stewardship,” where we explicitly mention the AVMA principles.)

✅ A Simple Data Checklist for All Hospitals

So what's the takeaway? Here are some simple and ongoing steps you can take to help make sure you are thinking about data protections as you modernize your practice with new tools.

1. Do a software audit.

Look around at the software you use, especially most practice management software—and all those add-on services. Make a list and answer the following questions for each one.

🚨 What data does each product have access to?

🚨 Which big companies now own each of these products?

🚨 Is the price you pay for the service discounted or free? If so, are you sharing data in exchange?

🚨 What other products or services does that company sell you?

🚨 Are all your eggs in one basket when it comes to products and services?

🚨 Does the company owner compete with you in any of their other businesses?

🚨 Why does the company offer this product?

🚨 And who are they sharing data with (or selling it to)?

2. Revise existing agreements.

Prioritize the biggest risks to you and your business and make a plan to fix them.

This may be done over time (and may involve some tough choices), but the hospitals that prioritize this upfront will have less risk and issues as they grow, sell, or expand.

Review your agreements with all of those companies and work one by one to revise them if you need to. Don’t forget: as the practice owner, you hold the leverage in these relationships.

3. Ask the right questions when purchasing new software.

Evaluating a new tool? Once you get down to the top choices for your team, ask the following questions to find out how each company protects your hospital data.

  • Can we see the data sections of your software agreement?
  • Do you facilitate compliance with GDPR and/or CCPA?
  • What other parts of your company access our data?
  • Do you share or sell our data with anyone?
  • What training does your staff receive on protecting our data?
  • How is our data segmented from other customer data?

Want more advice? We’ve got a guide for you: How to Actually Compare Software Companies.

🥰 What You Can Expect From Instinct

Finally, if you choose Instinct, we've made all of this easy!

We know many hospitals are switching to Instinct because of things like ease of use, modern functionality, and charge capture—and general ability to make staff smile while they do their jobs.

But I want to highlight one undervalued reason hospitals are choosing Instinct: responsible data protection now and in the future.

Know that over the years, we’ve fielded and rejected companies looking for access to the data coming out of Instinct hospitals, and we will continue to do so.

We remain independent as well as uniquely veterinarian-led. And while we can’t promise perfection in our data protection journey, we will strive for it and are committed to continual improvements to protect your data and privacy.

The bottom line for anyone using Instinct products is that we want this to be one less thing you need to worry about.

Curious whether Instinct is a good fit for your hospital? Drop us a line—we’re happy to answer any questions you have.