I’m sick of it. I’m very sick of the law not keeping up with current trends such as Internet reviews and harassment. I’m sick of hearing another story of “they killed my dog on purpose” with the veterinarian unable to give their account of the event. I’m sick of people getting their friends to put up fake reviews in order to drive a veterinarian out of business. We are living in an online world and unfortunately, the laws to protect businesses have not caught up. If we contact the authorities they have no real way of protecting us from online threats. If someone called the office and said, “I’m going to murder your vet for what they did to fluffy,” we can get them arrested. If they do that online the authorities don’t yet know how to respond. I am only one person but I hope that maybe we can create some change within the laws and our own privacy agreements.
Obviously changing how police respond to online threats is going to take a while. Look at all of the recent mass shooters – they were found to have discussed their plans and dislike for certain groups on a variety on online chats/websites. But right now those people hide behind a screen with no real reach of the law to catch them. No one wants big brother monitoring their computer screen but potentially with time there will be more online task forces equip to investigate these threats. So what can we do as veterinarians to help this along? Getting involved in local government, writing letters to congressmen/women, and push for a change in how we can prosecute online harassment. There are even several major court cases going on right now involving veterinarians suing for false and malicious reviews to be taken down. If even a few of us stand up to these online bullies we can set a precedent for a change in prosecution and how online reviews of businesses will need to be created.
Secondly, I believe that our own privacy laws under the practice act need to be changed. This might be a little easier to do since it would involve the smaller sector of veterinary medicine versus the entire government. At this time the majority of states have privacy laws where the practice cannot share client/patient information without either verbal or written consent. In a lot of situations when the owners go to the press they refuse to allow the veterinarian from releasing information. This makes the veterinarian look guilty because all they can say is “no comment.” I don’t think that the law needs to be abolished, because obviously, we want owners/patients information to stay confidential, but I feel like an addendum to the law is needed to keep up with recent online/press harassment. In case of malicious and false accusations, the client, therefore, forfeits their right to privacy giving the veterinarian equal opportunity to discuss the case online or to the press. How do we achieve this? We campaign- we flood our state boards and lawmakers with letters and phone calls. We get more involved and discuss the needs of the veterinarians with the AVMA in hopes to change for the better. I know there is a lot being done at the AVMA right now but veterinarians feel like it is too little too late. We need larger changes and that means changing our privacy laws.
Lastly, I believe we shouldn’t stay quiet. Right now a lot of support groups advocate to not respond or to just keep deleting the bad reviews. In my opinion, this doesn’t work very well and just riles up the other side. I also don’t believe we should harass anyone back either. Finding “dirt” on the person harassing you and posting it on websites or their Facebook does nothing but make you look like a petty person. The best responses I have seen to Facebook stories come with genuine thoughtfulness and care of the situation. These are the amazing responses that give a clearer picture of the story without completely disregarding privacy laws. When I see a well thought out response placed on a veterinarian’s main Facebook page usually what happens is good clients respond and share it with their own amazing stories of how great you are as a veterinarian. These responses typically start out with “ We would like to address the rumors regarding a recent event at our clinic” and go on to give basic details like “We did offer a variety of payment plans” or “We did offer relinquishment to save the pet.” Just correcting the small details can create a movement for truth and soon the good client reviews and actions outweigh the liars.
I am only one person. I am only one person trying to use my voice as a jumping point. It is now up to you to push forward with change. I will do my part in educating the public and private lawmakers but I am only one person. We need each other and we need to work together.
I have started an online petition to urge the AVMA and state VMA associations to change the privacy laws under the Practice Act. Sign the petition here.
Get in contact with your state veterinary government here.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Nicole Palumbo is a 2012 graduate from University of Illinois. She is originally from the south side of Chicago but chose to move to Northwest Pennsylvania for her first job out of veterinary school. She works with small animals, exotics, and also volunteers her time at the local wildlife rescue, typically performing surgeries and exams on the many raptors that are admitted to the facility. Recently she has taken a job with an emergency/general practice closer to Pittsburgh. With time she hopes to focus more time on wildlife medicine and also obtain specialization in feline medicine.