Gen Y, Gen X, baby boomers—regardless of which generation we belong to, we can all admit that digital media are changing our world. The effects have been felt not only on our personal lives but also on our professional lives. As ophthalmologists, digital media expedite the pace at which we learn and share surgical trends, practice tips, clinical insights, and more. Today, great information can be exchanged among colleagues while on the go. This ability to connect instantly and constantly via email, texts, social networks, and blogs is changing the way we practice. These digital outlets may also influence how we interact with our patients.
As more and more digital modes of communication become available, it is important to determine which communication style is most appropriate for interacting with our peers versus our patients. As the content and objective of these correspondences differ from audience to audience, so should the methods we employ to keep in touch.
FOR THE SURGEON
Personally, I prefer to stay educated millennial style, using the many digital products available to us today. Resources such as MillennialEYE, Eyetube, Eyewire, and the CRST app enable us to access information quickly, right when we want it. How many of us before surgery log into Eyetube to refresh our memories when adopting new surgical techniques? These digital platforms are powerful tools to have at our disposal (and you do not need to be a millennial to use them!).
Industry also recognizes the ease of digital media when it comes to surgical education. Alcon recently launched an iPad app called Toric Pro, which surgeons can use to calculate their surgically induced astigmatism, become more familiar with toric IOL technology, acquire pearls for marking and educating patients, and more.
And who can forget EyeSteve? At ME Live 2014, Steve Christiansen, MD, a resident at the University of Iowa, rocked the meeting room with his live tweets. He also informed us that at the last annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), a total of 1 million tweets were sent out by attendees. For 2015, Steve has set a goal for us to reach 3 million tweets. (Editor’s Note: For more from Dr. Christiansen, see An Interview With EyeSteve.)
Clearly, physician education and peer-to-peer information exchange is greatly facilitated by the use of digital media. In fact, I get some of the best advice just by reading blog posts and emails from my colleagues.
FOR THE PRACTICE
Today, it is rare to find an ophthalmic practice that doesn’t have a website or Facebook page. Although the use of social media is so prevalent in our personal lives, studies suggest that medical professionals use these networks only 65% of the time for work-related purposes.1 However, I would venture to say that social media use among ophthalmologists is higher. We have come to realize that these sites are helpful not only for our own education but also for our search engine optimization.
Despite some misconceptions, millennials are not the only generation taking advantage of these digital outlets. For cataract surgeons, our patient demographic—the Medicare population—comprises Internet users as well. These individuals check Facebook to see what their kids and grandkids are doing, and they surf the web. They haven’t adopted Twitter or Instagram as quickly, but that is not to say it won’t happen; it just hasn’t happened yet.
Digital efforts can be positive for practice outreach and marketing. As a four-physician group, Wolstan & Goldberg Eye Associates is a small-to-medium–sized practice. In the past, we have attempted to staff a young employee who is adept at the web and can market for us; however, that person doesn’t always stay. We get momentum going, and then we lose it. Managing our digital efforts has not been as easy as I’d like to admit. Hopefully, in the future, products like CheckedUp and ShoutMD (Alphaeon) will help improve our communication with patients in this digital era.
Having an online presence is important, but I wonder, can patients really tell the difference between my practice and a practice down the block? Do patients really choose me to do their cataract surgery because I have a flashy website over my reputation as a surgeon? Also, an important caveat is that whatever you put on the web is out there forever and for everyone to see. You must be careful about what you post. One survey reported that 56% of medical boards have restricted, suspended, or revoked at least one physician license for online missteps.2
Several factors may play a role in how a practice approaches digital marketing. For example, if your practice has good OD referrals, you may not need to spend that much money on marketing and reaching out to patients on social media. On the contrary, if your practice wants to promote something new or doesn’t have a strong referral network, then digital marketing may be an important strategy worth about 20% of your budget.
Maintaining an online presence is important. However, it is more important to ensure that we build long-term relationships with our patients. So, when it comes to connecting with patients, I go old school. Choosing a surgeon is not like trying to get a discount on a car and going to TrueCar.com. At the end of the day, reputation is king. Word of mouth brings patients in to your practice. Patients are familiar with terms like LASIK and premium or lifestyle IOLs. They still don’t really understand femtosecond laser technology, but they want to sit down and talk to you about the nitty-gritty of surgery.
As part of this old-school communication style, I like to send patients thank-you notes and mailers. One millennial approach we do prioritize, though, is maintaining our presence on Yelp and Healthgrades.
In my experience, I find it is best to stay educated and connect with my peers millennial style. However, when it comes to connecting with patients, I’m still old school.
1. Ventola CL. Social media and health care professionals: benefits, risks, and best practices. P T. 2014;39(7):491-499, 520.
2. Greysen SR, Chretien KC, Kind T, Young A, Gross CP. Physician violations of online professionalism and disciplinary actions: a national survey of state medical boards. JAMA. 2012;307(11):1141-1142.