Using social media for your business can seem like its riddled with potential problems.

 

  • What if people complain online
  • What if someone disagrees with a post
  • What is consent for pictures and cases and how do I get it
  • What is copyright and how can I avoid breaching it

 

I’ll deal with the online complaints in the future – you’re already dealing successfully with issues brought to you in house, so social media is just a new branch of this. The bigger question that gets many people unstuck is consent.

 

We’re used to talking about and gaining informed consent for procedures but what is consent when applied to pictures and stories, how do we ask for consent and how do we make sure we do not become liable for copyrighted content use.

 

The RCVS have a guide for using social media and it’s an easy to read guide. It covers the basics and while it speaks from using social media from a personal point of view it is applicable to business use.

 

  • Avoid bringing the industry into disrepute
  • Avoid inappropriate behaviour
  • Protect the privacy of clients, colleagues and friends

 

When do you need consent?

 

You need to be able to explain what you will do with a picture or case details for clients or staff to be able to consent. This is where the planning posts are worth a re-read. I would ask for consent in these situations:

 

  • You need to share pictures or information with another vet for diagnosis
  • You have planned posts that this case or picture would fit
  • You would like to feature the pet in the future as it is an interesting case that could educate people

 

 

We often share case details with other professionals and this requires the clients consent – it’s not just for sharing information publicly.

 

Let’s check the law

 

According to the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) vet practices hold personal data. This means you need to comply with the DPA. While the act is quite a lot to read through the Information Commissioners Office have great guides for the public and for organisations. In their view we hold data that can identify a member of the public and this should not be shared without their consent.

 

That seems pretty easy? We wouldn’t post their address or phone number online so we’re safe? If we post a case and no picture it won’t be able to be identified, will it?

 

This is where consent gets tricky. We never know who is reading the information we share. That can be exciting and interesting and can make things go viral – the unicorn of social media. Not knowing who is reading your posts also opens you up to people misusing or misinterpreting the information you share. This is why you need consent, even if you think the information or picture is not identifiable.

 

 

With so much already going on in a vet practice how do you gain consent?

 

Show what you are doing

 

Clients will be more likely to consent to sharing pictures if they can see some of your posts. To show what your activity is on social media you may wish to use pictures from your timeline in the waiting room. You also get more use out of great posts by using them as your own adverts – a simple screen shot and a colour printer and you have personalised posters – and may gain some more followers.

 

Review your current consent form

 

Consent for sharing information can be incorporated onto your current consent form. This can take whatever format you need but I would recommend having two aspects to consent for sharing pictures and information.

 

We need consent to share data with other vets, I would put this on the consent form as non-optional consent. This removes the stress of asking every client if they will consent to sharing information for diagnosis – especially when it isn’t always clear at the start of a case this will be needed. This consent should include the taking of pictures for training. We have all benefitted from seeing photos and videos of patients. Previously the preserve of textbooks we can now create our own library of images from the cases we see every day.

 

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Bladder study

 

The RCVS recommends:

 

If a veterinary surgeon considers it is appropriate to discuss a case – for example to further an animal’s care or the care of future animals – steps should be taken to anonymise the client, and/or the client’s animal. Veterinary surgeons should note that although individual pieces of information may not breach client confidentiality, the totality of the published information could be sufficient to identify a client.

 

With gaining consent for taking photos for use within the industry you have already cleared one hurdle for getting photos for social media. During a busy shift, or with critical cases you have consent to take photos. If you decide in the future they are useful for social media you can contact the owner at a more appropriate time.

 

You should include an optional section for sharing on social media on your consent forms. This can be simply worded and have the option to tick for consent. It is worth training staff on your social media policy so they can explain to clients what giving consent means.

 

I like LifeLearns template and it’s available for free here. Again, it splits the consent into two sections – one for consent to share the image but also a second statement that covers any alterations to the image, such as adding an arrow or notes to a point of interest. It is best practice to say you will share any alterations with the client before they are shared.

 

 

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While the line about compensation may seem a little dramatic it does clarify that you and the client understand that what happens to an image once it is in the online domain is beyond your control – to quote Dangerous Liaisons. You can adapt this form to suit your needs.

 

Options for sourcing pictures with consent

 

You can get clients to send their own pictures in. A post on social media could say you’re supporting Rabbit Awareness Month and please send in pictures of your rabbits for you to share. The client is then consenting for its use by submitting the picture. To ensure you are giving enough information, state where and when pictures will be shared – website/social media – and in what context. You may wish to have categories showing best hutch, most varied diet or similar so you get content to match your plans. Follow up with an email to confirm they have submitted the image and it may be used.

Other options mean going back to your planning, would you prefer to create posts that use stock images, or images of equipment and avoid the issue of client consent? You can still have a successful social media feed with minimal or no client consent required.

One final tip – never promise to use an image! Nothing will infuriate a client more than telling everyone their beloved pet is going to be a star… for you to post one image 6 months later! Make it clear their image MAY be used and it may not be in the near future. This is why explaining your plans for a picture are best practice.

Next time we’ll look at consent from staff and how to avoid copyright issues if you use photos and content from others.