What helps a patient decide if he or she can trust you? Is it your skills? Is it the number of degrees hanging on your wall? Yes, such things are important, but I think the most significant factors to gaining patient trust are referrals from friends and the patient’s impression the first time he or she talks with you—good old bedside manner. If you can bond with the patient, he or she is more apt to trust you and less apt to sue you. Furthermore, you will see a higher percentage of patients converting to premium IOLs and a higher percentage converting to elective procedures in general. Regardless of how the interaction takes place, the principles do not change: Patients want to like and trust their doctors.
Social media allow us as physicians the opportunity to take that doctor-patient interaction into cyberspace. Using applications such as Ustream, Twitter, and Facebook, it is possible to build bonds and establish real connections with current and future patients. However, the catch is that you have to buy in. You have to interact with the people you meet through these connections as real people. It is easy to get caught up with the idea that followers on Twitter and Facebook are nothing more than numbers, but behind each number is a real person with real questions, real concerns, and real friends.
I have seen far too many doctors establish a Twitter account and then send out message after message about LASIK or some other procedure they are promoting. The effect this has on those following the thread is largely negative. Most will consider such unwanted and unsolicited information a type of spam and will do one of two things: ignore the messages or stop following the thread. Neither one helps to achieve the doctor’s goal of recruiting more patients.
I have found that when you interact socially with online followers, they are more apt to listen when you want to share interesting information about your practice. The best form of interaction is based on things that interest you. For instance, I work with many local professional sports teams and spend much of my online time chatting with followers during sporting events. I often upload a TwitPic (picture) to my Twitter account from the game if I am there, or I mention certain plays or events during a game that I find interesting.
Other tweets are about my personal interests. I recently took up running, and I completed my first marathon on May 1. Along with daily updates on my runs and my training, I also posted a twitpic from the finish line with my finisher’s medal on. I truly do enjoy these connections and interactions, and I believe my followers are engaged and enjoy the interactions as well.
REACH A LARGER AUDIENCE
Engaged followers are responsive. When I wanted to get information out about a new study our practice was participating in, all I had to do was send out a link to more information in a tweet and ask that my followers please retweet it. They did, and a large number of people viewed the information I sent. As a result, I have been seeing patients from further away. It is not unusual for us to get patients from hundreds of miles away. I believe this is partly due to the wide reach of social media.
Another unique way that I have used social media is to broadcast a live LASIK procedure from start to finish. One of my Twitter followers, owner of the digital media company Digital Royalty, wanted to learn more about her options for LASIK. She decided to undergo the procedure, and through some questions and Twitter discussions asked me if we could use Ustream to broadcast her procedure live over the Internet. We did, and I found that the live broadcast helped to demystify the procedure and to answer a lot of patients’ frequently asked questions. Many comments posted afterward focused on how I interacted with the patient—how relaxed I was and how relaxed I appeared to make the patient feel throughout the process. Online viewers took notice that we had a conversation about things other than LASIK while the procedure was taking place and that it made the process seem effortless. That feedback helped me become more aware of what current and future patients are looking for. Now I realize that patient anxiety often focuses on how nervous they think they will be in that situation.
This live surgery event led to conventional local media coverage and newspaper articles, all of which helped to build my office’s brand awareness in the community and online. The surgery is now archived on Ustream for anyone to watch.
INCLUDE A STRONG WEB PRESENCE
Social media must be combined with a strong Web presence for maximal effect. You need to have a good Web site and to have it optimized for specific search terms. Web site optimization should be professionally developed so that potential patients can find you easily.
It is important to keep in mind that the world of social media is multipronged. It can include a Web site that provides general information; direct interactions through tools such as Ustream, Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare (a program that updates your friends on where you are); and personal posts in the form of blogs. Through blogging, you can update information more quickly and add timely and relevant content. Combining these tools will help you to have the most effective presence for communicating online.
MEASURE YOUR PROGRESS
There are now ways to measure how you are doing with social media. For example, Klout.com scores you across various areas of interaction and suggests ways in which you can improve and maximize your online interactions. If you are interested in growing your online presence, there are five basic rules to consider:
No. 1: The Internet is indelible. When you put something out there, you must be 100% sure you can live with it being there forever.
No. 2: Be sure that the practice’s Web site lets people know that you are active in social media, and include Facebook and Twitter icons on your Web site and business cards.
No. 3: Use your current patient base to get started. Send out an e-mail announcing your avenues for social media through some fun interactive event. For example, give away a pair of tickets to a sporting event or a pair of sunglasses to a follower who can answer a trivia question. This will not only get your followers involved but will have them looking for your tweets and forwarding them to friends so they can get involved as well.
No. 4: Keep it professional. The social media world is a microcosm of the real world, and there are unsavory people everywhere. Be smart with how much information you reveal about yourself and your family, and always protect your personal life. If someone seems to be getting too personal, do not get sucked in. As a rule, I do not post pictures of my family on social media.
No. 5: Have fun with it. The more you start to enjoy online interactions, the more natural it will feel and the more followers you will get.
This article is written for a print-based publication, but I suspect that most people who read this will do so online. This will happen more as we attempt to harness a fraction of the information stream available to us through the Web and through social media interactions. Maintaining a social media presence while cultivating the doctor-patient relationship and without losing the personal touch in the vastness of cyberspace is tricky. The world of social media is emerging before our eyes, and the earlier we get on board the better our practices will be in the long run. If you have any questions or want to connect online, send me a tweet to @teameyedoc, e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find me on Facebook at Schwartz Laser Eye Center. I hope these pointers help you get your online presence started.
Jay L. Schwartz, DO, is in private practice at Schwartz Laser Eye Center in Scottsdale, Arizona. He may be reached at e-mail: email@example.com.
- Regardless of how physician-patient interaction takes place, patients want to like and trust their doctors.
- As a physician in cyberspace, it is important to interact with others in cyberspace as you would in person.