Careful what you post

August 1, 2016
Kathryn Primm, DVM
Kathryn Primm, DVM

Kathryn Primm, DVM, owns Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, Tennessee, but has a growing career as a writer, a speaker and an online voice for veterinarians and pet owners alike.

Marketing you, your veterinary practice and your good deeds should not include candid snaps of your less-than-perfect surgical protocols. (Isn't that what got Dr. Pol in trouble?)

So, if you don't know, now you know: Kristen Lindsey, DVM, killed a cat with a bow and arrow. That's bad enough, but she decided to post the macabre photos on social media. The fallout went viral and cost her her job.

That example seems like an extreme case, but there are other smaller instances that could affect any veterinary practice owner, associate, manager or team member. If you post content about patients, clients, medical cases or procedures-especially pictures-you need to stop to make sure these things won't come back to haunt you. Stop to ask, “Is this something I want strangers to see and share whenever they want?”

Let's consider a couple examples I found online recently. (The actual photos have been Barbie-fied by the dvm360 team to protect my colleagues.)

The doctor and assistant did have gloves during this procedure. That hat and the casual wear, though ... that's true to the original pic.

The caption on this photo said the veterinarian and technician stayed late to perform a foreign body removal on a cat. The photo was posted publicly by, I presume, a team member at the practice who is obviously proud of their dedication and skill. The post was meant to extol the virtues of the veterinary practice team, but unfortunately virtues are not all it showcases.

The surgeon is not properly garbed for intraabdominal surgery. The doctor isn't wearing a surgery cap, gown or mask. Her surgical assistant is wearing street clothes and a toboggan, with her hair hanging near the surgical field. She too lacks a cap, gown and mask.

I don't know the circumstances surrounding the surgery, and I'm sure there were reasons for these omissions. But should someone familiar with surgical technique and not willing to give the benefit of doubt to these vets decide to share this photo, it could be catastrophic.


The real doctor did have gloves, but the lack of surgical mask and gown? That's all real.

Here's another example of a veterinarian working hard to save animals who isn't well represented by a single well-meaning photo. The surgeon above is probably donating his time and expertise to spay a homeless pet. However, in the photo, he's shown in the middle of a surgical procedure with no gown and no mask, his bare arms inches from the surgical field. The photo would have been better saved for private use and not posted on Facebook.

I'm not jumping to judge my colleagues in these situations, and neither should you. We all have times when we're forced to compromise in our medicine. Sometimes circumstances dictate a departure from standard protocol, but when taken out of context and aired on social media, you can open yourself up to criticism, possibly even calamitous consequences.

Look at everything through the eyes of someone who might not have your best interest at heart.

Veterinarians need to be especially mindful of what goes public. Look at everything through the eyes of someone who might not have your best interest at heart. Before an image or statement is posted, be sure you know what's going to be shown. Put yourself in the role of a hostile witness. If your worst enemy or most-hated competitor got their hands on the image or statement out of context, could it be used to malign you?

The bottom line is, you'll be represented on social media somewhere whether you approve it or not. Shouldn't you approve what's going live if it comes from your own practice? Do you want to trust your reputation to a well-meaning (or even silently malicious) person without reviewing the content with an eye toward protecting yourself?

The worst part is, most of us don't have the time to manage all of the content that represents us and our practices. So if you don't want to hire a professional marketer, just be sure you have final say for what's shown. Be advised that on the human medicine side of things, all photos depicting patients of any kind must be staged and approved by hospital administration. If you “go viral,” make sure it's for the right reasons. And don'tforget that scandalous and destructive news travels farther and faster than all the good deeds in the world.

Kathryn Primm, DVM, owns and practices at Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, Tennessee, and is the author of Tennessee Tails: Pets and Their People.