Article Date: 9/1/2002

fix this practice
Ending a Vicious Cycle

Learn how to protect yourself from employees who embezzle.
Richard S. Kattouf, O.D.

Q A staff member who's knowledgeable about optometry and wonderful with patients is embezzling. How do I deal with this situation?

Dr. L. Studaker

It's not unusual

Unfortunately, these types of situations are common. If this is happening to you, ask yourself, "Is this a matter of money, product or time? Is the rest of the staff aware of this employee's behavior?" Let's look at some reasons why doctors are easy prey for embezzlers:

ILLUSTRATION BY NATHAN OTA

The trouble with Cathy

Dr. List called my company because a senior optician, Cathy, was stealing product, money and time. Many of the other staffers knew of Cathy's habits. The doctors in the office were the last to know though, because they didn't keep tabs on what was going on in the office and they didn't have a checks and balances system in place. Cathy's actions affected the rest of the staff -- their morale was low because the doctors didn't know what was going on.

I traced Cathy's work history and found numerous complaints lodged against her. Apparently, Dr. List had never conducted a background check before hiring Cathy. She was good with patients and had the best sales record of the staff, but she embezzled money and product and was blatantly tardy.

Taking care of business

After a day and a half of evaluating schedules, records, payments and lab invoices, the evidence was overwhelming. I found $26,000 of theft over a little more than 1 year. With evidence in hand, I contacted Dr. List's attorney. The three of us gave Cathy a chance to admit to her deeds or face a lawsuit. Cathy chose to pay the money back to Dr. List.

In some states, the former employee can file for bankruptcy and avoid paying the balance. Before leaving Dr. List's practice, I taught him safeguards and what kind of checks and balances systems to use to prevent this from recurring.

Keep tabs on the scene

Doctors frequently say they're too busy to oversee the business portion of the practice. But if staff know of internal detection systems they're less likely to attempt dishonest behavior. You must define boundaries and have standard operating procedures in place.

DR. KATTOUF IS PRESIDENT AND FOUNDER OF TWO MANAGEMENT AND CONSULTING COMPANIES. FOR INFORMATION, CALL (800) 745-EYES OR E-MAIL HIM AT ADVANCEDEYECARE@HOTMAIL.COM.  THE INFORMATION IN THIS COLUMN IS BASED ON ACTUAL CONSULTING FILES.


Optometric Management, Issue: September 2002