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Marketing Your Practice in the Social Media Age
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As a young ophthalmologist entering the marketplace, you face many challenges that were not present just a few years ago. To be successful, you must focus your time and energy on developing a business model that will sustain your growth for many years to come. Whether you are a solo practitioner or part of a group, the modern challenges remain: how do you grow your business?

It is likely that as a YO, you are more familiar with social media and the Internet than some of your more seasoned colleagues. However, using these social media platforms as marketing tools may be more challenging than you realize.

Integrating new technology into your business plan, while important, may not be embraced by your colleagues. However, regardless of any resistance you may encounter, you should persist in your endeavors to use social media.

Patients are Looking for You
As of 2009, 50 percent of all Americans turn to the Internet for health-related questions. In fact, they turn to the Internet first, before consulting with you. Moreover, this population is becoming more discerning and demanding.

Prospective patients are no longer satisfied with simply looking up addresses and phone numbers. Rather, these savvy Internet users use the Internet to research your background and develop a sense of who you are as a person.

While it is important for your patients to be able to look up the basics — where you went to school, the insurances you accept and your office hours — they want and expect much more than just a simple verification of your credentials. They want to know who you are outside of your clinical persona. That is, what are your hobbies, do you have a family, what do you enjoy most about your profession, etc. This is the type of information that patients will use to differentiate you from your colleagues.

Why is this exchange of information so valuable to a prospective patient? This “soft” information allows them to evaluate you by using a matrix they can understand. Let’s face it: clinically, they really have no way of knowing if you are the best at what you do. But they can make decisions using soft information obtained from other patients you have treated.

Prospective patients are looking for reassurance that other patients have trusted you, been happy with the care you provided and liked you as a person. These are the measures by which you will be judged. Why not join in the conversation?

In order to do so, you need to have more than a static Web page/site. While important, you need to give prospective patients some insight into who you are and why they should trust you with their care.

Who’s on the Internet
When I started out with my blog on retinal diseases, I was expecting to create a following of young diabetics. After all, I assumed the younger generation, who were certainly more computer literate, would be my core readers. I was wrong.

My biggest followers are actually the baby boomers, especially those over 60. Why? They have the time and motivation to do their own research.

What About Social Media?
In order for social media to be effective, you need to start by creating a website. Once you have your website established, you can begin to use social media to drive traffic (visitors) to your site. Personally, I like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. I have found that each of these platforms targets a slightly different demographic.

For example, Facebook tends to develop more social networks that are composed mainly of friends, family, acquaintances, etc. It is also a great way to let your “friends” know the specific type of medicine you practice. Don’t assume they all know exactly what you do!

Similarly, LinkedIn is used more by professionals (non-doctors) and is a great venue for professionals to keep in touch with each other. I always recommend using LinkedIn as a means to attract employees and staff. Generally, this is not a platform you would use to communicate with prospective patients.

Lastly, Twitter has many facets. It is primarily used by those with online businesses and is used to draw attention to a particular Web page or article. Again, it is not a practice builder per se, but, can definitely generate traffic to your website and, more importantly, can be used to start conversations that will eventually lead to increased Web visibility.

Remember, with or without social media, you do not exist without a website. You need to develop your website first, then develop your brand by using social media platforms.

Making the Internet a Better Place
As more and more doctors take time to publish credible information on their websites, the quality of information found on the Internet actually improves. Keep in mind that as you are “marketing” yourself, you are also educating and improving public health. It is scary to think that most perceived health authorities on the Internet are not even doctors.

Make no mistake, social media is affecting your practice, whether you choose to participate or not. If you choose to embrace change by using social media, you will find your practice is filled with patients who not only embrace you for your medical expertise but, more importantly, for the person you are and how you make them feel. Isn’t this why we went to medical school?

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About the author: Randall Wong, MD, is a retinal specialist, entrepreneur and health care marketer in Virginia. For more on his use of social media, read his post “Blog Improves My Medical Practice.” Follow him on Twitter @retinadoc.

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