Q: A few days after my goldendoodle had surgery I wanted to ask the veterinarian a couple of questions about the wound and I didn’t want to bother her. I called the office and asked if I could have her email address. I figured that way I’d be able to send pictures and things like that. But the receptionist treated me like I was completely rude for even asking. Instead, I found her on social media and sent her a picture. She was very nice and set my mind at ease. Was I out of line?
A: The short answer is “yes.” It’s always appropriate to ask a professional in advance before approaching in a nontraditional forum. You want to be sure you’re not crossing that personal/professional boundary.
The longer answer is, of course, more nuanced. After all, if your veterinarian is so readily accessible on social media that you can ask a simple question and get a helpful answer then she probably doesn’t mind at all. In fact, she probably prefers that some of her clients contact her in this way.
Some veterinarians will personally email and even text with their clients, finding it easier than other methods of communication. And since our strict medical privacy laws don’t apply to pets, these are perfectly legitimate means of relaying crucial medical information. Nonetheless, it’s my contention that anyone who wants to reach their medical professional through personal technology or on the Internet should ask in advance, preferably in person.
Here are some simple tips to follow in case you do elect to continue this route of communication:
1: As an icebreaker, it’s always best to ask about email contact. That’s likely when she’ll tell you how best to reach her online, if at all.
2: This kind of interaction should never take the place of a veterinary exam. If you have a new health concern about your pet, schedule an exam. These means of communication are always more appropriate if you have questions about an existing condition or ongoing treatment.
3: Always identify yourself and your pet clearly when you communicate. Remind her of the issue.
4: Keep it simple and short.
5: Don’t expect an answer. Everyone uses personal technology differently, regardless of their generation.
6: If it’s an emergency, don’t use social media. Please use your brain, not your gadgets, and get yourself to the ER ASAP.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.