Can a veterinarian advertise prices/promotions?
Yes, veterinarians can advertise prices, regardless of what the price is (this can include free). When advertising prices, it needs to be clear what is included in the price cited. It should also indicate if any taxes will be additional or if they are included. As with all advertising, fees cannot be misleading or deceptive by the inclusion or omission of information.
Discounts can be advertised. For example, if a veterinary clinic is promoting dental health month, dental cleanings can be advertised as being X% discounted. Seniors, military, multiple pets, new client discounts can all be advertised as well if that is part of the veterinary facility’s fee structure.
Veterinary practices can use coupons to advertise promotions and prices of the services they offer. Coupons can be promoted in any public advertising medium. However, a clinic cannot use the services of a third- party company to sell discounted veterinary services on their behalf via a coupon program.
Third party company promotions can be advertised to clients. For example, if a clinic stocks a particular company’s foods, the clinic can let clients know about any discounts, coupon rebates or promotions such as “buy one get one free” that the company may be offering.
Can a veterinarian advertise that their clinic is helping a charity?
Yes, a veterinarian may inform clients and the public about their clinic assisting charities. Examples include:
- Raising funds for a particular charity. Clients can then decide if they wish to donate. If the advertising of the charity includes corporate sponsors, this would not be considered an endorsement by the clinic, as the sponsors are connected to the charity.
- Sponsoring a local sports team. The clinic name and/or logo can appear on a team jersey as a sponsor.
- Donating a product or services to a silent auction. For a service: if a non-client “wins”, a veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) will need to be established and all other professional obligations (for example, record keeping) followed when providing the service.
- Sponsoring a microchip clinic. For further information see: Conducting Programs for the Implantation of Electronic Identification Devices in Companion Animals.
Note that drugs (including expired and returned drugs) cannot be donated as this is not allowed under Regulation 1093
Can a veterinarian advertise that they specialize in a specific service, like dentistry?
To use a term, title or designation which indicates specialization in veterinary medicine or represents to the public that a veterinarian is a specialist or is specially qualified in a branch of veterinary medicine, a veterinarian must hold a specialty certification from an organization recognized by the College. If a veterinarian does not hold speciality certification, then it is acceptable to advertise that a veterinarian has "an interest" in for example, dentistry.
Can a veterinarian offer rewards programs for services and products?
Yes, rewards programs can be used. For example, veterinary facilities can participate in third party rewards programs so that clients can use their points cards.
Veterinary facilities can also offer their own rewards programs for clients. For example, if a certain number of bags of food are purchased, they will get a free bag. Or perhaps if clients spend a certain amount of money, they will reach a free service or a discount on a future invoice.
Incentive programs, however, are not allowed. Clients should not be offered compensation, rewards, or incentives to refer others to a veterinarian’s practice. If a client, of their own accord, speaks highly of the veterinary facility to family and friends and this results in a new client, a veterinarian can thank them. A thank you can be verbal, or a card/letter/email can be sent. A veterinarian is allowed to show their appreciation for the referral by giving a gift card, or a discount on services or products, if they wish to. This differs from incentive programs as the client made the referral because they wanted to; not because they felt pressured to or that they would be rewarded for doing so.
Can a veterinarian promote or endorse another business, service, or product?
Veterinarians are not allowed to endorse or promote another business, service, or product.
Examples of endorsement would include:
- handing out another company’s card/pamphlet to market or advertise on the company’s behalf. However, in the context of a veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR), using information provided by a third-party company for the purpose of client education (for example, when discussing recommendations for patient care, or providing information about the products the clinic stocks) would be permitted.
- being a spokesperson in a marketing campaign for a company’s product or service. A veterinarian cannot permit their status as a licensed veterinarian to be used in any communication offering a product or service to the public except for the products, veterinary services or ancillary services that they offer in their professional capacity (at their veterinary facility).
- advertising the products they stock at their facility in such a way as to be an endorsement. For example, advertising that “our clinic stocks item A because it is the best” is not appropriate as this would be seen as an endorsement. Advertising that “our clinic stocks item A” is fine.
Can a veterinarian use testimonials in their advertising?
A testimonial, in the context of advertising, is “a statement from a client, former client, or other person that is solicited (directly or indirectly) by a veterinarian and used in an advertisement for the purpose of demonstrating esteem, admiration, gratitude, or praise for services provided by or experiences with the practice”.
Veterinarians are permitted to use testimonials in their advertising and may ask a client for a testimonial. Other examples of testimonials include asking a client to rate or provide a review on a third-party website and asking a client to “like” the practice’s Facebook page.
Veterinarians are held to professional standards regarding the manner and approach in asking for testimonials. For example, a client should not feel pressured to provide a testimonial, rating, or review. Veterinarians are expected to ensure that all forms of advertising they have control over (such as clinic websites, and their own social media) remain in line with Ontario Regulation 1093 Section 36.
A clinic rating by a third-party company can be advertised if the third-party company is referenced as to the source of the rating.
How does a veterinarian ensure that what is posted on social media is permissible?
When a veterinarian uses Facebook or other social media platforms, they would apply the advertising regulations, maintain their professionalism, and protect confidentiality. For more information on social media see Guidance on the use of Social Media.
Before posting pictures or case stories of patients, a veterinarian must get the client’s consent. If a veterinarian is obtaining client consent to share an animal’s case story, be sure the client understands and agrees to what information will be shared. Written or verbal consent from clients is appropriate. If a veterinarian chooses to get verbal consent, it should be documented that consent was obtained.
What can a veterinarian advertise?
Veterinarians can advertise the professional and ancillary services they provide. When advertising, veterinarians are expected to do so in a professional manner and in keeping with Ontario Regulation 1093 Section 36 and the Professional Practice Standard: Advertising. Veterinarians should ensure that the information included in their advertisements complies with the following rules:
- The information must be factual, accurate and verifiable.
- The information must not,
- be false, misleading or deceptive by the inclusion or omission of information,
- contain any comparative or superlative statements, or
- contain any endorsement or promotion of drugs or third-party service providers.
- The information must not reasonably be regarded by other veterinarians as likely to demean the integrity or dignity of the profession or to bring the profession into disrepute.
Veterinarians can advertise in any public medium. This includes:
- internet/social media
- signs/bulletin boards
- booth (for example at a pet expo)
- community welcome package/realtor package
- merchandise (for example reusable shopping bags; sports team jerseys)
When someone posts a negative review on social media or a third-party review site, should a veterinarian respond?
Refer to the Guidance on the Use of Social Media document on the College’s website to assist with appropriate use of social media. A veterinarian should exercise caution when posting information online that relates to a client/patient. A suggestion is to move the conversation off-line by asking the individual to contact the practice directly. The College has no regulatory authority over third-party websites. To remove a negative review, a veterinarian can contact the third-party review site, or seek legal advice depending on the circumstances.