Posted on November 8, 2010

Social Media Interview #1 with Mark Prussian, Eye Care Institute

After attending the MIMS Internet Marketing Symposium in Boston, we wanted to explore more of what actually happens in the real world of medical practice social media. Based on earlier research, we realized that the Eye Care Institute in Louisville, Kentucky was doing some pretty amazing things with social media. We asked Mark Prussian CEO, of the Eye Care Institute to give us an interview. Read what Mark has to say about our questions. Mark was also a featured speaker at this years AAO meeting in Chicago, and we had some time to talk with him last week.

Q; Mark, we are always seeking out the best practices engaged in social media and its clear your practice in Louisville has a solid grasp on this. Can you tell us why your practice does keep up well with social media?

Unless eye patients have chronic or traumatic conditions, they often think of their eye doctor only once every year or two. That is a lot of time passing without branding and contact from the practice to the patient. Other industries contact their customers frequently so we think eye doctors should contact their patients frequently as well. To borrow the brand name of the firm we use to send our monthly e-newsletter, we try to keep in “constant contact” with our patients. We want them to think of us daily, weekly or monthly. We think this causes our patients to refer their friends and family members to us, even if the direct recipient of the digital message does not need us now.

Q: What are your best social media experiences?

By far, our best results come from our monthly e-newsletter. Our practice has about 33,000 patient encounters per year. Over the past 5 years, we have built our e-newsletter list to 10,000 of our most loyal patients. We send a monthly e-newsletter, without fail, on the 4th Wednesday of each month. Typically, this generates at least 20 responses, of which about half are appointment requests. The rest of the responses are split between follow up questions to content of the e-newsletter articles, account balance inquiries and other assorted responses. In addition to the approximately 3 hours per month we budget to write and edit the newsletter, the delivery service,, charges us about $75 per month. There are no other costs.

We have also used Facebook successfully to invite those who “like” us to events. For instance, we had a free lunchtime picnic and pep rally featuring the University of Louisville cheerleaders, pep band and a few former star athletes just before football season began. The Facebook invitations helped generate about 200 persons in attendance. Many of these guests were patients who, after eating their lunch, came inside our offices to schedule their next appointment, and for other of our patients, it simply was a good chance to chat in a casual setting and generate goodwill. It is important to note that having a Facebook fan site, is completely free, except for the time spent to keep it up to date. At The Eye Care Institute, we spend about 2 hours per week, keeping our page current.

We have about 80 LASIK patient testimonials on our YouTube channel. I believe that if a picture is worth a thousand words, a video testimonial is worth ten thousand words. These video testimonials are so much better than written testimonials as the patients own words and body language really tell the story of their pleasure with their vision correction success.

Q: What kind of time do you suggest that a practice dedicate to updating social media and what types of people are best suited for this work?

Unless the doctor(s) in the practice can write in a casual, non-clinical tone, and is a frequent Facebook user, I do not recommend the doctor keep up the Facebook page. LASIK counselors, premium IOL counselors, administrators, or another staff member who enjoys social media are good choices. Using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc is just another form of marketing. I hear of practices that make the mistake of either blocking these sites from usage in the practice, or penalize staff who use these sites while at work. As long as the patients are served and work is caught up, we, at The Eye Care Institute, don’t mind if our staff takes a few minutes each morning or afternoon to check their personal social media. Our staff thanks us by helping to market the practice with posts to their own pages about enjoying their jobs, services we offer, mentions of doctor birthdates, etc. This is free and everyone wins.

Q: Many people at the 2010 MIMS conference asked about legal implications and issues related social media. What do you suggest doing to prevent negative talk?

I received a similar question when I spoke at the AAO meeting in Chicago. As I understand the issue, the Academy has put out either an ethical policy statement or, at least, raised the question of HIPAA violation of privacy on Facebook fan sites, and similar venues. So far, we have not had a patient post their specific medical condition question via our Facebook fan site; however if that were to happen, we would not respond via Facebook. We would attempt to determine if we could use their screen name to determine their identity and then we would phone the person to discuss their situation. Remember, the patient can tell anyone they wish about their medical condition. The responsibility is on to make sure we respond in a way that does not violate privacy.

Further, if the concern is that being a fan of our practice on Facebook identifies the Facebook user as a patient of ours, I say that is not a natural conclusion to make. Many out of state persons are fans of our site for various reasons and they are not our patients.

Q: We noticed you had a lecture at this past AAO in Chicago. What were the main questions in this forum related to social media at eye care practices?

Questions involved patient privacy, decisions about how to post messages, who should decide which messages to post and ethics of using social media. Several questions centered on the effort involved in writing an e-newsletter monthly, not just a few times.

Q: Should a practice analyze social media ROI or should they build ROR (return on relationships)?

I haven’t spoken much about buying ads on Google or Facebook, but we do so regularly. I tend to buy our Internet ads on a cost per thousand basis, not on a cost per click basis. As of the date of this interview our Facebook ads have appeared 53,378,093 onscreen times and we have spent $6,250.44. The math is so simple, there isn’t much to consider. If your practice doesn’t have a free Facebook fan site and a paid Internet presence, get busy. Stop analyzing and start doing. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are free. As you can see from my numbers, paid Internet ads are nearly free. There is no reason to wait. The Internet is not the only way to build and maintain a medical practice, but in conjunction with all of the traditional methods, it surely helps.

Q: What are your facebook and twitter links so we can show everyone what you have done?