In this new blog series, “Everyday Ethics,” Donna Euben, ASHA’s director of ethics, answers member questions about their ethical quandaries pertaining to ASHA’s Code of Ethics. Please email your questions to email@example.com.
I am an audiologist in private practice. If I use a client’s parents’ initials, I can post the parent testimonials, which I revised a bit, on my business website and social media accounts, right?
Social media can be an effective way to promote your services to the general public. However, just as with print media, we must be careful in meeting our ethical obligations when using digital and social media. These obligations include—but aren’t limited to—potential confidentiality breaches, misrepresentation, and the need for informed consent.
Consider the following before deciding to share client testimonials:
- What, if any, permission did you receive from your client’s parents to use their testimonials? The parents may have initially signed a general release allowing you to use their comments about your services or their children’s likenesses. However, a blanket waiver might not cover the use of their initialed testimonials to promote your practice. Such a written document should probably have a beginning and end date—signed and dated by both parties—to get the most beneficial and transparent informed consent. This should cover most circumstances surrounding permissions, including your relationship with the family and how you plan to use the testimonials. You might also want to list where you plan to use testimonials, such as on your business website and social media accounts, presentations, brochures, or ads. Also clarify if they’re OK with you excerpting their words or if you need to use exact quotes? Make sure the family clearly understands their permission is voluntary. Check your state occupational licensing law, too. Some states require that informed consent be in writing, for example. Consult with a local lawyer to ensure your agreement complies with state law. (See Code of Ethics: Principle I, Rule H and Principle IV, Rule R.)
- Do your “revised” testimonials accurately capture the professional services you provide? When posting testimonials, you shouldn’t misrepresent your competence or the services you provide . Using promotional pitches like, “The best audiologist in the wild, wild west!” and “I can fix hearing loss in anyone!” are misleading to the public. (See Code of Ethics: Principle III, Rules A, E, and F.)
- Did you also get specific permission to use initials? You’re ethically obliged to protect your patients’ identity and keep treatment details confidential. Few exceptions exist for this ethical mandate, unless you have your patients’ (or their caregivers’) permission, which falls under “legal authorization” or “informed consent.” Posting someone’s initials in combination with a testimonial describing a client’s treatment—no matter how seemingly vague—may still allow others to identify your client. An example of this is posting a testimonial such as: “X audiologist helped my 4-year-old daughter who struggled with an unusual hearing disorder involving . . ..” (See Code of Ethics: Principle I, Rules H, O, and P.)
I flagged some of the ethical considerations raised by your question. Thinking through these—and other—issues will help you reach an appropriate, ethical decision to protect you, your clients and their families, our professions, and the general public.
Donna R. Euben, Esq., is ASHA director of ethics. firstname.lastname@example.org.
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