Read This Before You Post: 5 Social Media Rules for Veterinary Professionals

TikTok. Instagram. X (formerly known as Twitter). Snapchat. Facebook. BeReal. Reddit. With more places to post than ever before, Americans are doing just that—and the data1 proves it. Instagram alone boasts 2 billion users and sees over 100 million photos uploaded daily. 1.9 billion users log onto Facebook every day, and the average American spends 500 minutes per month on TikTok. Regardless of whether you’re for or against social media, the undeniable reality is that sharing our daily highs and lows, likes and dislikes, memes and criticisms, has become an intrinsic part of the American social fabric. And where exactly does all this hearting, posting, and commenting take place? According to Zippia,2 over 77% of Americans use social media apps on the job, and the average working American spends 12% of their workday scrolling through TikTok, Instagram, and other platforms.

Because so much of Americans’ personal, daily social media use occurs during the workday, learning that work features heavily in social sharing shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Snaps and stories feature the physical workplace in the background; desks, notebooks, and computer screens (which might contain sensitive information) sneak their way into on-the-job selfies; complaints about bosses, clients, and company procedures get tweeted out into the universe; and in the end, workplaces lose a considerable amount of privacy.

Social Media & Medical Professions

It’s easy to dismiss social media as thoughtless, harmless fun, but when apps overlap with the workplace, employees—particularly those in medical professions, including veterinary medicine—can get themselves into hot water. A post that may not feel noteworthy at the moment of posting can quickly spiral into a major issue for the medical professional, their employers, and anyone else involved.

The takeaway? Think before you post. This golden rule of social media should guide you regardless of whether your posts are focused on your personal or professional life, and abiding by this rule is the key to avoiding the social media danger zone. Read on for a list of social media tips that all veterinarians should follow.

Social Media Guidelines for Veterinarians

  1. Think before you post. Before you hit send on a post or story that takes place at the practice or mentions work in any capacity, ask yourself: Is this a post that you would be comfortable with your practice owner or colleagues seeing? Would you show it to the patient’s owner? If the answer is no, refrain from sharing.
  2. Familiarize yourself with your practice’s social media policy.* While your social media accounts are irrefutably your own, posting work-related content (or even content that isn’t related to work but occurs in the clinic) allows your employer to have a say in what you share. Many practice owners create practice-wide social media policies that employees must sign, and violations of these policies can lead to censure or even firing. Carefully reading through your clinic’s policy is a must; if your clinic doesn’t have a policy, consider asking the practice owner for their recommendations.
  3. Secure owner permission before sharing information about patients, including photos. Photos of clients in the clinic setting, diagnoses, and medical records/visit information all are considered confidential. Sharing confidential information without express owner consent can be considered a breach of that confidentiality, and posting on social media is no exception. Even if the post or tweet gets deleted, sharing this data is still considered a breach. The same holds true for 24-hour Instagram or Snapchat stories. Posting without owner consent is a lapse in judgment that can result in scathing reviews, legal trouble, and other ramifications that have the potential to harm your clinic.
  4. Never post anything about malpractice incidents, claims, or lawsuits on social media or the internet. Consider the negative legal, business, and reputational ramifications of sharing this information. Any statements or information you share about your malpractice claim or Board complaint might be used as evidence against you in civil litigation or an investigation by a state veterinary board. Regardless of the privacy settings on the social platform or page, information can easily be shared and copied with others. Confidential information about your professional treatment may be shared with clients, attorneys, animal rights activists, and other veterinarians. One of those veterinarians may ultimately be hired as an expert to testify against you. Even some animal rights advocacy groups strongly caution pet owners against commenting about their cases on social media. Additionally, discussing any claims, including frivolous ones, may be damaging to your reputation or business. Although you may want to seek support or vent, don’t do it online. To ensure the best possible outcome for yourself and your practice, keep the details of malpractice incidents private and off the internet.**
  5. Engage with respectful content. Many social media apps (mainly Facebook and Twitter) actively show your friends and mutual followers the content that you interact with. If you keep your posts and stories clean and professional but like, retweet, or comment on inappropriate content, there’s a good chance your followers will see it. If your account is public, remember that you are a reflection of your practice. If clients of the practice (or even fellow employees) catch you interacting with harmful or disparaging content and are made to feel uncomfortable, they have every right to bring this to the attention of the practice owner.

Just like Instagram Explore, this list of social media guidelines could easily go on forever. However, these five tips are the most important to keep in mind while interacting with your personal social media in veterinary medicine. By adhering to these rules and using a bit of common sense, you can reduce any potential risks and keep your social media use stress-free.

Posting at the Clinic Gone Wrong: Three Cautionary Tales

Oversharing on Social Media Hurts Malpractice Case

Dr. A, who belonged to a private social media group for veterinarians, was shocked to face a veterinary malpractice claim when a client blamed Dr. A for the death of an emotional support dog. The client’s attorney sent Dr. A a demand letter alleging that Dr. A failed to diagnose cancer in the dog and threatened a lawsuit. Dr. A reported the claim to the insurance carrier, which opened an investigation and requested all the medical records. Dr. A believed the claim was frivolous because the owner did not follow up on a referral for further testing due to the high costs. Dr. A decided to post about the claim with medicals details on the social media platform to look for support and guidance from fellow veterinarians. While some veterinarians were supportive, a few made comments that questioned Dr. A’s care, including whether Dr. A did a thorough blood workup. A debate ensued via comments about whether Dr. A’s treatment breached the standard of care. Dr. A did not realize that a veterinarian who subsequently treated and diagnosed the dog with cancer was on the same social media platform and was communicating with the attorney representing the client. Although neither the client nor dog’s name was mentioned in the post, the treating veterinarian advised the attorney about the criticisms by others in the group. Dr. A did not foresee that the post would help the client’s attorney find an expert to testify in a lawsuit. Dr. A also potentially jeopardized their reputation and future employment opportunities by posting about the claim.

Viral TikTok Leads to Termination of Employment

Dr. B is an associate veterinarian in good standing at a veterinary clinic. Dr. B is also a highly active TikTok user who shares veterinary-related content with over 500,000 followers. Clients from the clinic feature prominently in many of Dr. B’s posts without any issue. One day, Dr. B posts a tiktok with a small canine patient. In the video, the dog growls and snaps at Dr. B while Dr. B laughs, calls the dog an inappropriate name, and jokingly threatens the dog about what will happen if it keeps up the bad behavior. Dr. B refers to the dog by its name multiple times. The video quickly goes viral on TikTok and, as it grows in popularity, the dog’s owner, who is also a TikTok user, eventually stumbles across it. The client is horrified to see Dr. B disparaging their dog and contacts the clinic demanding that Dr. B be fired. The owner alleges that not only did Dr. B act unprofessionally in front of hundreds of thousands of people, Dr. B also called the dog a disparaging name and baited the dog into aggressive behavior. As result of the social media fallout and unprofessional conduct, Dr. B is fired.

Facebook Flub Damages Clinic’s Reputation

Dr. C is the owner of Clinic D. Dr. C is a highly active Facebook user. Because Dr. C is also the moderator of Clinic D’s Facebook page and frequently interacts with clients, Dr. C is very careful to post only professionally appropriate statuses and photos. Back in college, Dr. C and some friends created a private Facebook group in which they continue to share raunchy memes. Unbeknownst to Dr. C, the moderator of the meme group accidentally changes the group from private to public. Before the moderator can correct the error, Dr. C shares an inappropriate meme to the group and likes several other questionable posts. Because the group is no longer private, clients who frequent Clinic D see Dr. C’s shared and liked memes in their feed and are deeply offended. Dr. C posts an apology, explaining that the memes were just a joke and not meant for anyone except that small group of friends. But one particularly irate client begins posting on Clinic D’s Facebook page that Dr. C is disparaging toward certain social groups and that “no one with a conscience should bring their pet to Clinic D.” Dr. C does their best to combat the offended client’s social media attacks, but Clinic D loses several long-term clients. At the end of the year, it’s revealed that new patient intake is down for the first time in several years.

*Note to veterinary practice owners: 45% of businesses do not have an official, company-wide social media policy.2 In order to avoid negative social media incidents and appropriately inform practice employees about your social media expectations, consider implementing a policy for your practice. This policy should address social media use in the clinic, rules regarding sharing patient information, and social media use outside of the workplace if employees’ accounts aren’t set to private. While this article is a good starting point, your practice’s social media policy should reflect your unique setting.

**If you want to discuss a claim, limit the discussion to your employer, staff from the PLIT program, claims staff from the insurance company, or your attorney. Remember that every claim is unique, and some matters involve complex medical or legal issues. The insurance company claim professionals working on the PLIT program have extensive experience in handling these claims and will be available to discuss the details and resolution strategy with you.