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Business & Profession Professional Development

Social Media: What’s the Point?

At a Glance

  • It’s vital nowadays to have an online presence for your practice – and even more so, on social media platforms
  • Facebook and LinkedIn are good resources for interacting with patients and colleagues, respectively, but they shouldn’t be used interchangeably
  • Twitter is a great way to reach patients and medical professionals who are pressed for time – especially when paired with other online tools like CAPTIV8, which provides informative animations
  • Regardless of which social media platforms you use, it’s important to embrace it and make sure your online presence is keeping up with the times

Very soon after establishing our private practice, a new (and young) patient said something that shocked me. He had searched for me online and had discovered that our website wasn’t active yet – and almost didn’t come in for the appointment. The clear implication was that in the eyes of Gen Y, if you don’t have a website, you risk being either nonexistent or not worth seeing, even if the patient has been referred by someone they trust.

But it’s more than that. The mass adoption of social media, combined with the ubiquity of permanently Internet-connected smartphones and tablets that can perform multiple functions, has changed how people behave online. People today are spending ever-increasing amounts of time interacting with these devices, principally with social media apps, so when it comes to attracting patients or maintaining online visibility in front of colleagues and referrers, merely having a website that provides static information is not going to be enough. You need to present yourself and your practice well on social media too.

Professional Facebooking

Most of us are familiar with Facebook, which is primarily designed for interaction with friends and family, but it can also be fun to connect with international colleagues who have become friends. Nevertheless, the usual advice is not to “friend” patients on Facebook, so that professional boundaries are maintained. That’s not to say there’s no place for it as a medium to connect with patients. A business can set up a professional Facebook page that patients can interact with. If a patient “likes” your professional page, they can receive updates about your practice and the services you offer, and they can share that information with their Facebook friends. It’s particularly important to understand what your obligations are with regard to patient testimonials. In Australia, for example, our regulatory body prohibits publication of patient testimonials on your own website or any social media under your control. The initial instruction was that doctors should even ask third party websites to remove testimonials, which would have been unwieldy, if not impossible, to perform. In this rapidly evolving area, it’s important to keep abreast of what your obligations are.

A wider reach than you think

What people used to talk about face-to-face has now moved to online discussion. For example, on Facebook, I’ve seen discussions amongst my group of school friends about which doctors they should see in various specialties. I no longer live or work in that area, and yet I know what people are saying about the doctors who work there. The obvious implications of this are that the discussion’s reach is far wider than a face-to-face conversation amongst friends, and that the discussion is probably going to be permanently recorded. It should be a given that once something is posted on the Internet, it’s there forever. As a general rule, it’s said that a dissatisfied customer will tell 9–15 people about their experience (significantly fewer than a satisfied customer) – so social media has the potential to magnify the impact of a single patient’s experience. It’s a sobering thought, and one social media users should keep in mind.

The LinkedIn impact

Although professional Facebook pages are good for interaction with patients, LinkedIn is far more useful for maintaining contact with colleagues and business contacts. Because people update their own contact information online, it’s often far easier to look up a professional contact on LinkedIn than to search through your own records. LinkedIn even allows endorsements from colleagues, which tells others – including patients who look you up – where your particular skills lie. It’s also very useful for updating professional contacts on your recent activities, such as presentations or publications. It’s very important to avoid using LinkedIn like Facebook though – it’s a professional, not a personal, network.

Google Plus’ utility

Google Plus is perceived as being less useful than other social media because of a lower number of active users. However, it’s useful to note that posting a YouTube video on Google Plus may help it get a ranking in search engines, especially Google. There is a wealth of information in surgical videos on YouTube, and putting more of my own out there is on my to-do list.

Twitter – not just celebrities making inane comments

I read an aphorism recently (probably via Twitter): “Twitter makes you love people you don’t know, whereas Facebook makes you hate the people that you do know.” One of Facebook’s most frustrating issues is that it can become clogged with the “oversharing” of personal information – especially negative updates. On the other hand, Twitter is public and allows users to find content by searching hashtags (e.g., #keratoconus). That makes it relatively easy to find interesting content, without requiring any prior connection to the user posting it, and then to follow users who share similar interests.

Twitter is best appreciated as a medium for brief, rapid communication. If other users find your content interesting, they’ll retweet it to their followers – spreading your message further. Although tweets are short, they’re often used to share a photo or a link to a longer article or blog. Increasingly, Internet users – especially surgeons – are time-poor, so it can be much easier to read hundreds of tweets quickly than to engage with more extensive content. Ophthalmic journals and news sources often tweet links to articles, and there are even Twitter Journal clubs nowadays that facilitate excellent learning opportunities with international colleagues. Surgeons are tweeting more from conferences, which is great if, like me, you live in Australia and an international conference often means two days of travel!

Recently, a judge asked me if I read – but when I responded that I read Twitter, he laughed. Some people perceive Twitter as full of celebrities making inane comments. This preconception may have prevented professionals from using it in the past, but these perceptions are changing. Just as previously uninterested grandparents have now embraced Facebook, their grandkids may be leaving it for newer social media platforms. What makes Twitter most appealing to me is that it offers an opportunity to follow and interact with people from all walks of life, including international ophthalmologists, medical practitioners, scientists, optometrists, journalists, politicians and more. I’m also always curious to see who is following me – it is often pleasantly surprising and makes it more fun to interact. One of my former surgical bosses, Henry Woo, has a great presentation (1) further arguing the point that every surgeon should use Twitter – I highly recommend it.

One of the newer apps that I predict will improve surgical teaching is Vine. The app produces six-second video loops (called “Vines”) that can be posted to Twitter. What’s the point of a video that’s only six seconds long? Although surgical videos on YouTube are great, they can be quite time-consuming to watch. Other specialties (such as urology) have demonstrated that it’s possible to demonstrate key surgical steps in a six-second video. Sometimes, it’s useful to see an important step repeatedly. This is great for a surgeon in a rush, who can get lots of tips quickly without needing any tools beyond a smartphone.

Patient education and interaction

These tools are useful for patient education too. Personally, I use an animation program called CAPTIV8 in the office and online. In our waiting room, we have a series of animations playing that demonstrate various procedures and conditions and can be adjusted depending on the clinic. This helps with our internal marketing, allowing us to raise awareness of conditions we treat. In the consulting room, I will often show one patient a relevant animation while I make notes or see other patients. For instance, I can have the patient view a series of cataract and IOL-related animations before they book a cataract surgery appointment. Procedures like that are much easier for a patient to understand if they have an explanation with animations, and it saves me time and effort in repeatedly clarifying the same concepts. I can then focus on any specific residual questions that the patient has. The software allows me to pause the animation and even draw on it to demonstrate concepts. Outside the office, our website works well with CAPTIV8 to provide educational material to potential patients. I can also give existing patients links to our various animations. For example, if I make a new diagnosis of primary open angle glaucoma, I will often provide that patient with the link to our online animation, which they can then pass on to friends and family.

There is also a Social module that scans Twitter for keywords and allows your practice to offer users further information. Let’s say I wanted to find potential patients commenting on “laser eye surgery” within a 100 km radius of my practice. The Social module can display a stream of people talking about this subject, and my staff can respond to them by simply clicking on an animation (such as LASIK) and posting it. The end result is a link to the chosen animation that plays on a webpage branded with my clinic’s details. Inbound marketing like this is more targeted than straightforward promotion, and it encourages patient education and dialog.

No matter what your chosen platform, I recommend that all surgeons embrace social media and build an online presence. Engage with your colleagues to enhance your learning opportunities. Don’t be left behind as patients adjust to the rapidly changing online world.

Daya Sharma is a corneal, cataract and refractive surgeon, and is co-owner of the Eye & Laser Surgeons practice in Bondi Junction, Sydney, Australia. He tweets from @DrDayaSharma.

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  1. H Woo, “EngagemENT -Why every surgeon” (2015). Available at: bit.ly/engagemENT. Accessed May 16, 20
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