How to boost your practice through social media

For ODs who run their own practices, investing a little time and effort on social media can boost business.

In addition to using social media as a marketing tool, doctors can use these networks to connect with patients when appropriate, reach out to the local community and build relationships with other professionals in the field.

Social media in practice

"While not everyone is active on social media, it appears to be turning into the best and most inexpensive way to advertise and reach patients and potential patients," says Barbara L. Horn, O.D., member of the AOA Board of Trustees.

"Utilizing and embracing social media is no less critical than our past experiences with incorporating computers in the office."

The numbers back up Dr. Horn's advice. A Pew Research Center study found that 73 percent of adults who use the Internet are using social networking sites, with 71 percent using Facebook and 18 percent using Twitter.

In addition, a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers' Health Research Institute found that patients—and consumers—are interested in using social media for health-related communications.

According to PwC's research, 41 percent of respondents would choose a specific health facility or doctor based on information they found via social media. And 69 percent would value discounts or coupons for service offered through social media.

Dr. Horn, who currently focuses on Facebook, uses her practice's page to promote upcoming events and specials, highlight awards and community efforts, and showcase employees.

Guidance for practicing ODs

Mediabistro, a leader in media industry research, found that 82 percent of small businesses use Facebook, 73 percent use YouTube and 47 percent use Twitter and LinkedIn.

With this rise in popularity, many medical associations have created social media guidelines and policies. The AOA's Ethics & Values Committee (EVC) has done so for practicing optometrists.

Morris Berman, O.D., M.S., Chair of the EVC, is well aware of the benefits of social media.

"Utilizing and embracing social media is no less critical than our past experiences with incorporating computers in the office," Dr. Berman says. "Social media offers important marketing opportunities for our practices and facilitates communication with the public and our patients."

The EVC's recommendations, outlined in "Guidelines for the Appropriate Use of Social Media Networking (SNS) and Internet-based Capabilities (IBC) in Optometric Practice," call attention to the importance of the doctor-patient relationship and patient privacy.

"While social media provide many benefits, professionals must recognize that limitations exist, including legal and ethical violations that can occur through these open-exchange mechanisms," Dr. Berman says.

Dr. Berman believes social media will continue to expand and affect every part of our lives. Doctors hoping to be a part of that trend should seek out experienced and knowledgeable individuals to help them.

"Ask all the right questions regarding goals and objectives, implementation, best practices, costs, as well as avoiding some of the risks involved with the utilization of various forms of social media," Dr. Berman says.

February 10, 2014

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