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Cover Focus | Nov/Dec '19

Making the Most of Social Media

I am a pediatric ophthalmologist based in Honolulu, Hawaii, where I work alongside my husband, who is a cornea specialist. Over time, I have developed a strong social media presence (Instagram @drrupawong), through which I strategically share a mix of professional and personal content that is tailored to my brand identity (Editor's note: Dr. Wong has nearly 37K Instagram followers!). This article details my experiences and insights into making the most of social media as an ophthalmologist, a wife, a mom, and everything in between.

WHY SOCIAL MEDIA?

In today’s digital world, many individuals—meaning our current and future patients—look online for information about their health. As health care providers, if we do not craft our own online narratives, then someone else will craft them for us, likely in the form of online reviews. I find that having a strong social media presence enables me to drown out some of this noise and, instead, take charge of the story being told about me and my practice.Beyond being used to create a professional narrative, social media can actually be used to boost it. I can confirm that my use of Instagram has directly led to patients coming into my office—but it is certainly not without a strategy. Below are a few key practices of my social media use.

Establish a connection. First and foremost, I strive to use social media to deepen my connection with my current and prospective patients. For example, say I share a post on gender pay disparity that resonates with some of my female patients. Next time they are in my examination room, we will likely have a discussion about the subject. In turn, our correspondence extends beyond ophthalmology, helping us to establish an even stronger physician-patient connection.

Like on Twitter, Instagram users search for hashtags on topics relevant to them. I once received a message from a woman whose child had been diagnosed with retinopathy of prematurity. When I asked how she had located my account, she said she had searched #retinopathyofprematurity and came across one of my posts. Of course, I did not provide any medical advice via social media, but I was able to make a connection with her and direct her to the proper referrals to seek out a second opinion. Patients and their relatives are using these platforms to access information, sometimes even more than search engines.

Although my emphasis is primarily on Instagram, I also have a blog, a clinic Facebook site, and a nascent YouTube channel. I find Twitter is great for extending your reach within the medical community, but tweets are primarily seen by other health care practitioners. I find that Instagram, Facebook, and even YouTube are more of a business-to-consumer marketing tool, whereas Twitter seems stronger for business-to-business marketing via #medtwitter. It may be helpful to first establish your goals and then determine where your own efforts will best be served.

Define your brand. If you are thinking about using social media for professional purposes, the first step is to define your brand, as this is central to any marketing strategy. To do so, consider your core values. Think about the defining principles of your life and who or what inspires you. Those principles and sources of inspiration will help you determine the essence of your brand. It is also pivotal to think about your why, not just your what. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it, and that will translate across your social media platforms.

I always aim to create content that is engaging, authentic, professional, and personal. Instagram is a visual medium, and some users may find it uncomfortable to post photos of themselves. However, considering my brand, my Instagram account is authentic to who I am as a person. I am a mother and I work with my husband, and I often showcase this side of my life (Figure 1). But just because I post about my personal life does not mean it is not deliberately planned and executed.

Figure 1 | Dr. Wong blends the professional and personal in person and on social media.

It is important to determine how you want to be perceived by your followers. Do you want to be viewed as an expert consultant at an academic institution, or do you want to be viewed as a family-friendly community eye surgeon (which is more of my brand)? You want to determine your niche market and then develop that deliberately and authentically. You are the product. Although it may be tough to get comfortable with that concept, as long as you remain authentic, your voice will resonate through your platform. 

Tell a story. Once you have established your brand, you must work to craft a narrative that engages your followers. Figures 2 and 3 show some of the ways in which I post about my patients. In both of these scenarios, I could have painted a more clinical picture of my patients, their conditions, and their treatments. But I knew these stories would resonate more with my followers if I shared an anecdote about each patient and our relationship. The human side of medicine resonates with our audiences, and it opens up dialogue about the conditions we treat.

Figure 2 | Dr. Wong shares an anecdote about her doctor-patient relationships.

Figure 3 | Dr. Wong paints a detailed picture of patient, rather than focusing on the clinical scenario.

HOW MUCH PERSONAL?

I share a lot of personal content on my Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube pages, but I do this because it is on brand for me. As a pediatric ophthalmologist and strabismus specialist in Hawaii, where everything is about family, it is fitting for me to share pictures of my children on social media (Figure 4). Of course, I could use stock imagery to discuss pediatric eye care, but it makes more sense for me to show that I’m a mother of three as well as an ophthalmologist.Social media users want to connect with other people, not with companies. Although my clinic has an Instagram account (@HonoluluEyeClinic), it has never performed as well as my personal account. However, that is not always the case. Oakland Vision Center, an optometry clinic, maintains a successful Instagram account (@oaklandvisioncenter) and has nearly 13K followers. One cardiothoracic anesthesiologist has success by taking a less patient-centric approach and disseminating educational content; it works because his Instagram audience is composed primarily of physicians, nurses, and medical students.

All users must find their mix and determine what content is authentic for them to share. Some suggested topics include your achievements, medical news, calls to action on specific awareness days, and/or elements of your daily life to humanize yourself to your followers.

A FEW CAVEATS

Physicians on social media must remain conscious of what they post and how they engage with other users. Be sure to never share any HIPAA-violating information; for those in training, HIPAA-specific information is not just protected health information and patient photos—even descriptions of procedures or content that is geo-tagged or time-stamped can be problematic. If a patient can identify himself or herself in a post, then you need consent to share it. I always consider, what if my patient with my absolute worst outcome read this post or saw this story? That is my guide for whether to post it.

Additionally, never offer medical advice in response to a specific question. Patients will reach out for medical advice, and it is best to respond with a clear message that states, “I cannot provide any medical information over social media.” I also stay away from sharing any political opinions and from promoting a specific device, drug, or manufacturer.

With a few caveats in mind, social media can be an immensely powerful tool for crafting your narrative, boosting the power of our work as ophthalmologists, engaging with a global network of people affected by the conditions we treat, and showing that we, too, are human.

author
Rupa Wong, MD
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