Is There Anybody Out There is one of the simplest yet most complex songs on my favorite album, Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” Moreover, it is the question that forms the foundation of this article. My name is Philippe Bogaert, and I am a music lover and social media strategist.
When I was asked to write a column for CRST Europe, I was as much thrilled as I was honored. To write for a highly specialized readers’ group is an exhilarating challenge. Although I have been working with ophthalmologists and refractive surgeons for more than a decade, I am not a doctor. I do know, however, a thing or two about refractive surgery and an abundance about strategic use of social media. My aim for this column in the coming year is to guide today’s ophthalmologists— you—through social media and their opportunities, pitfalls, and pressing urgency.
SOCIAL MEDIA MONITORING
There is an immense amount of advice available for how to use social media, and most of it is given in a warning tone. This is the case in all areas of business that use social media, but it is especially true in the medical profession.
It is not my intention to minimize the importance of serious issues such as patient confidentiality, doctor-patient boundaries, disclosure, and conflict of interest. On the contrary, the risks associated with the use of social media are real and should not be taken lightly. (I will elaborate on these significant ethical matters in my next column.) They should not, however, paralyze you into avoiding social media, and fear of potential risk or abuse should not be used to build a wall between the medical profession and the outside world.
“Hello, is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me.
Is there anyone home?
… You are only coming through in waves.
Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re saying.
… I have become comfortably numb.1
From Comfortably Numb, “ The Wall,” Pink Floyd
As you probably guessed, I have chosen to use “The Wall” as a metaphor for my first topic: social media monitoring. By stressing the risks and shutting your eyes to today’s reality, in essence you become comfortably numb. As this title suggests, great comfort can be found in being numb, at least for a while. If you feel that social media are inadequate, untrustworthy communication tools and retire from their use, you are isolating yourself on a high-and-dry private island. It can feel pretty agreeable; but it can also be lonely.
When we shut off social media, we are missing part of today’s reality. We become the blinded, the deaf, and the numb.
DIGITAL NATIVES AND OPHTHALMOLOGY
Social media are now an integral part of human life. While older generations are prophesying doomsday, younger generations do not remember a time when social media did not exist. These digital natives have expectations of communication different from those of older generations. Openness, sharing of knowledge, and transparency now have greater value than privacy, and posting status updates and sharing photos are societal norms. Targeted ads on the sidebars of a webpage do not surprise digital natives, and a growing number expect that a business will respond within an hour to any post that mentions the brand. Members of this generation are aware of being monitored and are willing to use that fact to their advantage.
Do you think this will never apply to ophthalmology? A survey by Guseh et al2 showed that 68% of US medical students, residents, and practicing physicians considered interacting with patients on social media ethically unacceptable for personal and patient-care related reasons. That was 5 years ago—about half the lifetime of this phenomenon of social media. Facebook turned 10 this year, and today’s high school graduates grew up using it. How many of them will think it is inappropriate to use social media personally and professionally?
Should we throw all caution overboard and lose our traditional doctor-patient boundaries? No.
But, it does not hurt to start listening. Monitoring is, by far, the most important strategic part of social conversation for all businesses, especially for those whose business it is to help others. How can you help what you do not know? To use Pink Floyd’s words:
“If you should go skating
On the thin ice of modern life
Dragging behind you the silent reproach
Of a million tear-stained eyes
Don’t be surprised when a crack in the ice
Appears under your feet.”1
From The Thin Ice, “The Wall,” Pink Floyd
Integrating social media into ophthalmology has obvious potential to improve patient care and trust in the profession. This phenomenon is widely considered an enhanced learning tool among peers across the globe and an unprecedented opportunity to meet patients where they are. Taking note of all ethical issues, it is possible to maintain professional standards online, and I am happy to be your guide. For now, I have said enough; now it is time to listen.
“All in all, we’re just another brick in the wall.” 1
Philippe Bogaert is an MBA-qualified social media strategist and Cofounder and Director of Sales and Marketing at Finger Talks. He may be reached at tel: +32 475 26 78 76; e-mail: email@example.com.
- Pink Floyd The Wall. http://www.thewallanalysis.com. Accessed April 14, 2014.
- Guseh JS II, Brendel RW, Brendel DH. Medical professionalism in the age of online social networking. J Med Ethics. 2009;35(9):584-586.