(This post was originally published on March 24, 2016, and has been updated to be even more awesome!)
When it comes to marketing your practice, veterinary practices have a secret weapon – your patients! Nothing can beat your patients in terms of representing what you do on a daily basis while simultaneously tugging at people’s heart strings. Whether it’s a brand new puppy coming in for its first checkup, or a patient smiling after a successful procedure, your patients are amazing source of marketing material.
With such a fantastic resource available to you, why would you use stock photos? Sure, stock photos have their place, such as when you need a crystal clear, high-quality image for a brochure or banner. But when it comes to your website and social media accounts, you’re missing out on a valuable opportunity if you aren’t using images of your patients.
Need more convincing? Here are some other great reasons to use photos of patients:

  • Patient photos are more personal than stock photos
  • They put a face on your practice, and help potential clients picture their own pet visiting you
  • Clients usually get pretty excited about the prospect of seeing their pet featured by your practice online
  • Even better, clients are more likely to share promotional materials and social posts if they feature a beloved pet. This, in turn, helps you to expand the reach on your posts to their friends and family.
  • Photos allow you to update clients about their pet’s progress and to send them progress pictures before and after procedures, keeping them informed about their pet’s status.
  • They make you look like an awesome veterinary clinic!

Do we have you on board with patient photos yet? Great! But before you whip out your camera, there’s one more thing to consider: client consent.

Getting Client Consent

Using patients’ images or names for marketing purposes without explicit permission can be risky move. The reality is, for every 99 clients who will be thrilled to have their pup’s photo posted online, there will be one who is genuinely offended that your clinic used an image of their pet. Getting photo consent right off the bat can avoid any awkward situations and ensure that you don’t accidentally offend or lose any clients. So before you use a patient’s image or name, make sure that the client has agreed to it – preferably in writing.
Ultimately though, your client consent form shouldn’t trump the client themselves. If a client has a change of heart and requests that you take an image down, we recommend doing so to the best of your ability, with the caveat that once an image is on the Internet, it may be out of your control.
Having a consent form can be a good precaution for legal purposes as well. A well-written consent form can help you avoid being taken to court for publishing an image or having a client attempt to demand compensation for the use of their pet in an image. However, you won’t necessarily need a lawyer to create a consent form. Consulting a lawyer is advisable under some circumstances, such as when you need a consent form for a professional photo shoot with pet models. However, for smaller things, like photographing patient in your practice to post to social, a basic consent form should be sufficient in most cases.
Another important step to avoiding legal issues is controlling which devices patient photos are taken on. Any photos you take of patients should ideally be taken using hospital-owned devices. Some practices own a camera or give their staff iPads to take photos. This prevents any problems that could arise from situations such as staff members having work images on their personal devices.
And speaking of staff members, your clients aren’t the only ones who need clarity surrounding patient photos. Make sure that team members understand the purpose of taking patient photos and the importance of getting consent, as well as what those photos can and can’t be used for (e.g., personal use).

How to Ask for Consent

  1. Get it in writing.
    Some people say that verbal consent is enough, but the safest way to ensure that you don’t get yourself into trouble is to get consent in writing. That way, if someone decides to cause problems, you can always refer back to the form as proof that you requested permission.
  2. Work it into your workflow.
    Some practices make a point of photographing all incoming patients. If you have a designated person at your practice that you’ve armed with a camera and the task of photographing new patients, arm them with a permission form too. When they ask if they can take a photo of the patient, have the client read over and sign the form at the same time. The easiest way to get photos is to assign the task to a specific person or group of people who are responsible for capturing all the cuteness that your patients have to offer.
  3. Have it on the thing they’re already signing.
    If you have a registration or appointment form, you can include the consent form in the list of things they agree to, or add it as a secondary form to fill out while they’re filling out the appointment form. It’s important to make sure that the client knows/notices that they have agreed to this – if possible, have reception also ask about it verbally. Whatever you do, don’t put the permission form in the fine print. You want to be as transparent as possible about asking. If the client says no, that’s OK! Better to have no photo at all then an angry client on your hands.
  4. Don’t be shy!
    Don’t be nervous or afraid to ask clients to fill in a consent form. Clients really appreciate it when you make a point of getting permission before you post images of them or their pets online. It shows that you respect their privacy, and we guarantee that the majority of your clients will be thrilled that you want to photograph and feature their furbaby.

What to Include on a Consent Form

You do not need to be a lawyer to write a consent form, but here are some things to make sure you’re including in the document:

  • Consent to photograph both the patient and the client
  • Consent to use the pet’s name
  • Permission to use and publish photographs both in print and digitally, for any lawful purposes
  • The length of time that the photographs will be used for (e.g., in perpetuity, for up to one year, etc.)
  • Whether or not the photo can be modified by the practice
  • That the client waives their rights to any royalties or compensation for the use of the photo
  • Get the clients’ signature, date, and the name of the pet in question

Consent Form Template

Click here to get your FREE consent form template.
You can alter this consent form for use in your own practice, but please note that we are not lawyers, and that this does not constitute a legal document. If you have any concerns about this consent form, please consult with a lawyer.Patient photos can be a wonderful way to impress potential clients, please current ones, and create a positive impression of your practice. Don’t squander this precious marketing resource. It only takes a few minutes to get a client’s signature on a consent form, and the resulting photographs will be worth their weight in gold!

You know where your patient photos would look great? On a WebDVM website! Learn more about getting an attractive website that displays testimonials, educates pet owners, and gets them through your practice doors with online appointment booking!

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