Parties, Promos, and Press Releases

It’s that time of the year again. December is the month where daylight hours and alcohol consumption are inversely related.


Every holiday season I get calls and emails with this question:


“Our practice is hosting a holiday party/open house event for patients and potential patients. We’d like to hire a professional photographer to take photos for social media and our web site. Do we need to ask guests to sign something in order to use their photo?”


The answer is, yes. You must have each individual’s permission to take his or her photograph at your event and upload it to your practice’s web site, Facebook page, or social media sites.


And, keep in mind that this release is different than the privacy law/HIPAA release you may already have on file for the patient.


I realize that the photographs of smiling, happy party goers in a public setting may seem benign compared to clinical photos of unconscious patients being prepped for surgery or those sporting enhanced body parts . Nonetheless, in order to legally use the photographs you snap at holiday fetes and other events, you must have a signed general photo release, not a patient/HIPAA release, from each individual that can be seen in the photograph taken at your special event.


A general photo release secures permission to publish images of people attending the event. The photo release used for before-and-after photos, research, or other clinical use covers you for compliance issues related to patient privacy/HIPAA regulations. Even if you’ve already got one of these signed releases on file, it’s not sufficient to cover you for social media, web site, or emails. You’ve got to have attendees sign a general photo release that is specific to the special event.


This release does not need to be long or complicated. You don’t want to overwhelm partygoers with lengthy fine print when their primary goal is to find the bar. A one page document should simply explain that the individual’s image may be taken while at the event, and they are giving their consent to your practice to use that image as it your practice sees fit.


If anyone under the age of 18 is attending your event, the release must be signed by a parent or guardian on their behalf. Generally, the wording is roughly the same as those for adults, with the addition of the release being signed on behalf of the minor by the parent or guardian.


Finally, if you are taking video clips instead of photographs, the release needs to give permission not only for the use of the image but also for the audio component. Otherwise, the video release is essentially the same as the still photograph document.


I’m often asked whether having a large sign or easel board stating something like, “By entering this area you agree to having your image taken and used in our social media, web site, and other promotional messaging for this event.” Nice try, but the answer is no. You must obtain individual, signed releases from each guest used in your promotion.


I hope that you and your practice have a peaceful holiday season. Enjoy the parties. March forward with the entertainment. I simply caution you to be careful when the cameras come out.