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Is your compliance program misbranded?

Posted by Margaret Scavotto, JD, CHC on 7/20/21 9:00 AM

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This blog was also posted on The Compliance & Ethics Blog, the national compliance blog published by the Health Care Compliance Association and the Society of Corporate Compliance & Ethics.


One thing I missed during the lock-down days of the pandemic was traveling. Family vacations, of course, but also work travel. For example, several times I have flown to San Antonio, Texas to speak at a healthcare conference. I love visiting the Alamo and eating lunch at La Panaderia.

The last time I visited San Antonio, while walking from my hotel to La Panaderia, I saw a storefront with a green sign with gold letters that read: “SNACKS / WAX HANDS.”


As an outsider, I was befuddled: What is going on in this building? I am always up for snacks – but what are wax hands? Are wax hands the snacks??? I hope not.

Then someone I met in town explained the concept to me. “Wax hands” are part of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, a series of tourist attractions that includes a wax museum. And yes, you can dip your hand into wax and make a replica of your own hand.

My kids would love to do that – and then I’m sure they’d ask for snacks, too.

Now “Snacks / Wax Hands” makes perfect sense to me. But as a newcomer, I had no clue what was behind the doors underneath that green and gold sign. I was confused – and people don’t like to feel confused.

What about compliance?

I have heard many times that federal prosecutors investigating healthcare providers are likely to walk up to the first employee they see at a provider and ask: “What do you know about your compliance program?” Whether this question is asked by an investigator or via an internal survey, it’s an excellent way to measure the effectiveness of your compliance message. What would the newest employee know about your compliance program? What about the employee with the least experience working in healthcare? In your organization, if you asked this question, would you get a good answer – or a blank stare?

When I work with providers to review their compliance program, or to build or update a compliance program, one of my goals is for ALL staff to be able to give a meaningful answer to this question. The answer can be simple, like: “Compliance is about doing the right thing. [Name of person] runs our compliance program.” That’s a great answer!

The way we talk about compliance will directly impact how much staff understand about compliance. If we only use high-level terms like “fraudulent,” “kickback,” and “remuneration,” we are less likely to make compliance a relatable topic that people understand and carry with them every day. To many people, the term “kickback” might be as confusing as “Snacks / Wax Hands” was to me in San Antonio.

Keep it simple.

To maximize the impact of your compliance message, and truly help your team understand what compliance means, your message matters. Does your program have a brand that draws people in – including people new to your organization, and even people new to healthcare? Or are you using language that wrinkles brows and leaves people confused?

Some people in your organization will of course need to know the ins and outs of “kickbacks,” “remuneration,” and all things “fraudulent.” Others will need to understand different terms, like the basic language of your Code of Conduct, and compliance principles directly relevant to their job duties. Keep it simple, keep it helpful, and keep asking your staff what they know about your compliance program – it’s the best way to find out if your compliance brand is the real deal, or just a wax replica.

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