Have you been asked to sign a confidentiality agreement as part of a medical writing or editing contract?
Nondisclosure statements or confidentiality agreements are not unusual in the medical communication field. They are common documents clients use to protect the information or knowledge writers and editors encounter as they work on a project.
What exactly are you signing when you put your name on a confidentiality agreement?
And should you sign it?
A confidentiality agreement or nondisclosure statement is often a standard element of a Subcontractor’s Services Agreement. It states that medical communicators will keep strictly confidential any material, information, or knowledge they receive from the client.
Confidentiality agreements keep information safe from theft or discovery by competitors.
The kind of information protected by confidentiality agreements can be disclosed to you orally or in written or electronic form. It can also include business observed in meetings. Anything involving the business affairs of the client and its customers that is not already in the public domain is confidential information.
Protecting clients’ valuable information is an important part of a medical communicator’s job. Clients expect professional medical communicators to protect their information from discovery, even after they have completed a project. That includes protecting electronic files from hackers.
Tips for Handling Proprietary Information
- Follow instructions. Some nondisclosure statements provide specific instructions for what to do with proprietary information when the project is finished. Take note, and do what is required.
- Boost your cybersecurity. Make sure your computer has firewall protection to prevent anyone unauthorized from gaining access to your files.
- Keep papers safe. Shred paper files after a reasonable period of time has passed and you are positive the project is complete. If you are unsure about the timing, or whether the client wants the documents back, ask them.
- Plan for electronic storage. Consider removing electronic files from your hard drive and retaining them on a separate disk.
- Err on the side of caution. When in doubt, consider that information to be proprietary. Better safe than sorry!
What if a Potential Client Asks for a Sample?
In the AMWA Journal Freelance Focus column, some experienced freelance medical writers addressed the question of how to demonstrate experience in medical communications, and especially regulatory writing, without disclosing the confidential nature of the work.
Medical writers can avoid some potential problems by having a thorough resume and references that can verify experience and qualifications. Of course, it’s important to always ask before listing someone as a reference.
A resume can refer to projects without disclosing proprietary information by including a list of projects you’ve participated in, such as “Integrated Summary of Safety for [ORAL DRUG], an opioid analgesic.”
Importantly, potential clients should know better than to ask to see a complete document without confidential information redacted. If they push for this, it’s a red flag.
It’s not easy to fake experience with regulatory documents. A client should be able to tell in a brief phone interview if you have experience with investigator brochures (IBs), clinical study reports (CSRs), integrated summaries of safety and efficacy (ISS/ISEs), or briefing documents.
To demonstrate the quality of your work, you can take a CSR and make it generic by removing all identifying names and data.
That way you can show your editorial and organizational skills without revealing any proprietary information.
Communication Is Key
If a client asks you to sign a nondisclosure statement or confidentiality clause, don’t worry. It is a fairly standard request, and it shouldn’t impede your work or future relationships—if you are attentive to the requirements.
If you have questions, you can always ask the client to clarify, or you can consult with an attorney before signing a contract or agreement.
And sometimes it helps to connect with experienced medical communicators about their experiences with contracts and confidentiality agreements.