Cover your bases before posting pets' faces
The patients at Azzore Veterinary Specialists in Russellville, Ark., are worldwide stars—of a sort. Here’s why: Every patient, upon check-in, poses for the photographer (client services coordinator Jennifer Horn) and gets its furry face posted to the practice’s Facebook page and Twitter feed as well as in the pet’s electronic health record. Then owners can follow their pet’s progress throughout the day, with frequent updates.
These updates could include status reports or photos from radiology, surgery prep, or recovery, says practice manager Cheree Miller. Of course, the staff doesn’t post photos of graphic procedures or other images that might upset viewers. Those images, however, may show up on the feed dedicated to clinical followers. “On this page we might post pictures of surgery, CT scans, or tumors after they’ve been removed,” says Miller. “The images are intended for other doctors to view, so it’s a different crowd.”
Of course, none of this public sharing happens without the client’s permission. The team at Azzore makes sure that every pet owner signs a standard photography release form (press here to download a sample photo release form) upon admittance. Standard release forms are in abundance on the Web. Miller tweaked one to fit her hospital’s needs and says it has served them well. “We’ve only had a few people refuse,” she says. “And if someone changes his or her mind, we can remove the photos at any time.”
But most clients understand that the purpose of posting photos is to keep them in the know—and to educate others who are simply following the action. Typical posts might explain that the pet “made it through surgery just fine,” “is awake,” or “is resting well after her procedure.”
“Clients no longer have to call us asking for updates,” says Miller. “And they can share their pet’s progress with family and friends. In fact, we often have an influx of fans or followers when a patient is admitted and the client tells others to follow the progress online.”
Recently a local weather station’s mascot came in for treatment. Joey the Garden Cat, who has his own Facebook page with more than 18,000 fans, had a bone tumor removed at the practice. With such a high-profile patient in the hospital, Azzore’s fan base grew rapidly. Updating the site took more time than usual during Joey’s stay, as fans wanted constant updates. But usually, Miller says, it only takes her a few seconds to post updates after the client services coordinators post the initial
“My office is right across from the hub of activity,” Miller says, “so I can hear when they’re shaving a pet for surgery or going into radiology. It only takes a moment to pop on Facebook and post a quick update. And it doesn’t cost us a thing, other than our time.”
The practice’s bookkeeper, Janna Ritchie, also handles much of the practice public relations and shares in the social media job. The bookkeeper prepares articles for local newspapers and magazines and can use patient photos for those publications as well.
“None of it takes us very long,” says Miller. “As long as we have clients sign the initial release form, we can use their photos in all of our materials.”