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. For 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.
AT A GLANCE
• As more digital modes of communication become available, it is important to determine which communication style is most appropriate for interacting with physician-peers versus patients.
• Despite some misconceptions, millennials are not the only generation taking advantage of digital media outlets. Therefore, digital efforts can be important for practice outreach and marketing.
As 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
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/CRST Europe apps 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 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, and acquire pearls for marking and educating patients.
And who can forget EyeSteve? At the ME Live 2014 meeting, 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 2014 annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), a total of 1 million tweets were sent out by attendees. (Editor’s note: For a closer look at volume of Twitter posts, see 6,000 Tweets Per Second.)
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 does not have a website or Facebook page. Although the use of social media is 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 includes many Internet users as well. These individuals check Facebook to see what their kids and grandkids are doing, and they surf the web. They have not adopted Twitter or Instagram as quickly as other media, but that is not to say it will not
happen; it just has not 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 have on the staff a young employee who is adept at the web and can market for us; however, these people do not always stay. We get momentum going, and then we lose it. Managing our digital efforts has not been as easy as I would like. Hopefully, in the future, products such as CheckedUp (iDoc) 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 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 rather than because of 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 optometry referrals, you may not need to spend much money on marketing and reaching out to patients on social media. By contrast, if your practice wants to promote something new or does not 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 by going to TrueCar.com. At the end of the day, reputation is king. Word of mouth brings patients into your practice. Patients are familiar with terms like LASIK, premium IOLs, and lifestyle IOLs. They still may not 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 to connect with my peers millennial style. However, when it comes to connecting with patients, I am 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.
Damien F. Goldberg, MD
• Private Practice, Wolstan & Goldberg Eye Associates, Torrance, California
• Financial disclosure: None