Should I include a confidentiality agreement concerning business systems used in my practice (proprietary forms, special clinical protocols, software, etc.)? If so, what should it state? And on another note, do you have any great suggestions for the New Year?

I’ll tackle the first two questions, then conclude with the third question which I feel is a fun one – there are many wonderful ideas for a New Year; but I will cover one that stands out as the most important and is timeless!

During the course of working in a dental office, employees learn a great deal from their dentist, colleagues, and courses from recognized experts in the field. Most of the internalized information and developed skills are transferable; they can be used from one office to the next. In terms of general information there is a standard set of dental office skills that are used industry wide.

For example, the entire office may attend a continuing education course on treatment planning and case presentations. The lessons that are taught perhaps through lecture or even role-playing to hone verbal skills are not something concrete that can be guarded by an office policy. Transferring these learned skills to another office environment when an employee leaves is difficult to limit. In addition, dental employees from other offices may have attended the same course given by the same instructor; therefore, could those ideas be guarded by an office policy of Proprietary Information? Not likely.

On the other hand, if the team convenes after the seminar and creates original documents, unique case presentation forms, a distinct office greeting, or visual aids that are used in the office for the sole purpose of benefiting the patients of that office, one could argue that these tools are proprietary and could be guarded by office policy.

Another example is a proprietary form prepared by a dentist for special laboratory cases. A long-standing consulting client of mine, and good friend, has created a unique laboratory order form specific for “Smile-Designs” that he uses exclusively for large cases that change people’s smiles. I would argue that this form is solely the property of the office and cannot be taken from the office for other’s personal use.

Be it a form, a system, or idea, a simple paragraph in the Personnel Manual may read something like this:

Proprietary Information:

Although not intended to discourage team creativity, any system, idea or communi­cation developed during your employment here is exclusive property of the practice and remains so even after termination.

Even if it is determined that an office tool is being used in another dentist’s office because a terminated employee introduced the document to the new office, one must consider if it is worth the time to pursue a course of action to make them stop using the form. Does the use of your personalized form in another office affect the performance of yours? Most likely it does not, although it is frustrating to learn that another office is using the fruit of your labor.

Okay, now the fun one: What should you do at the beginning of the New Year?

Well, outside of measuring the past year’s performance against the original goals, re-calibrating goals, and making a new commitment to your business, I have a great idea.

Over many years, I’ve had the pleasure of writing articles that address issues and concerns in dental practice management. The articles have been published in local, regional, and national publications and most recently on the Internet. The articles have essentially been the culmination of many years of experience in dental offices across the country where I have worked as an advisor to dentists and their team. I come away with real and practical solutions to every day problems that face dentists and their employees, fold them into lesson plans, curriculum, and eventually articles for publication.

It is for this reason that I suggest you do what I am doing at the end of this year, and to conclude this article: Giving thanks to a person or people who have helped you to achieve your successes. I would like to give endless thanks to the person who has been helping me put my thoughts, experiences, and lessons into a readable form for many more to benefit. My wife, Susan, has been the “brains behind the scene” as she has been my partner in writing and editing articles, lesson plans, and curriculum for my management company.

Without her, I’m sure my articles would be published. But with her, they have energy, vitality, and foremost make sense! (I’m sure she’ll even edit this part of the article to make sure my emotions don’t get carried away with the real purpose of the message – she helps me a great deal!!!)

As the New Year is now upon us, find the time to go to those people around you in your dental practice, people who affect your career and your life, and let them know how much you appreciate their help, their love, and their support.

I know I can’t make it without them. Thanks Susan for your support and help through the years!