Building a Patient Base in Refractive Surgery

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10 min read

Drs. Hura, Mueller, and Venkateswaran review tips for building a refractive surgery patient base by maintaining a dynamic social media and online presence.

In this episode of Interventional Mindset, Drs. Venkateswaran, Mueller, and Hura discuss techniques available to refractive surgeons for recruiting patients and promoting new refractive procedures and technologies.

Interventional Mindset is an educational series that gives eye physicians the needed knowledge, edge, and confidence in mastering new technology to grow their practices and provide the highest level of patient care. Our focus is to reduce frustrations associated with adopting new technology by building confidence in your skills to drive transformation.

Browse through our videos on a variety of topics within cataract and refractive surgery, glaucoma, and ocular surface disease to learn practical insights into adopting a variety of new surgical techniques and technology.

Using social media to share refractive procedures and technologies

Building a patient base is unique in refractive surgery. Dr. Hura observed that because the majority of refractive procedures and technology, such as laser in situ keratomileusis (LASIK), photorefractive keratectomy (PRK), small incision lenticule extraction (SMILE), implantable collamer lenses (ICLs), and premium intraocular lenses (IOLs), etc., are elective or have a self-pay component, it’s crucial that refractive surgeons hone in on messaging that attracts patients who are both interested in these procedures and inclined to pay the out-of-pocket expenses.
He added that using social media as a communication and marketing tool has proven very effective for his practice. The Maloney-Shamie Vision Institute leverages three separate Instagram accounts; one for the clinical practice, which is patient-oriented; an account for one of the partners (Neda Shamie, MD) that has helped her connect with patients but also female optometrists and ophthalmologists; and Dr. Hura’s own personal account which he also uses to connect with patients and other eyecare practitioners (ECPs).
It can be difficult to be a refractive surgeon in 2023 without a social media presence, emphasized Dr. Hura. He advised that surgeons post engaging content several times a week and aim to be at the forefront of developments in refractive surgery techniques and technologies. For example, a refractive surgeon new to social media could start with a Facebook or Instagram account and build their way to Twitter, YouTube, and potentially even make a TikTok account for the entire clinical practice.

Factoring in search engine optimization

An additional factor for surgeons to consider in their web presence is search engine optimization (SEO). In essence, this means having a clear and appealing website that is continually updated to help increase the chances of patients or other ECPs coming across the refractive surgeon’s website through organic searches. If this seems like an investment in time or energy that isn’t feasible, he also noted that practices often hire external agencies to manage their website and maintain good SEO practices.
For refractive surgeons interested in seeing other specialists with a top-tier social media presence, Dr. Mueller advised that they look to plastic surgeons. He added that while many ophthalmology practices tend to hover around the 5,000 mark for followers, plastic surgeons often have upwards of 100,000 followers. There is a lot that ophthalmologists can learn from looking at how plastic surgeons utilize social media and SEO to market their services effectively.

Tips for using SEO to build organic traffic

Often, having an online presence acts as virtual real estate, which can be just as important as a surgeon’s physical space since it has the potential to expose thousands of patients surfing the web to their practice and services. He stressed that whether or not a surgeon can bring patients into the clinic is now contingent on whether people can find them online and do personal research into their background and expertise.
Dr. Mueller recommended that refractive surgeons consider if patients type in a refractive procedure with their location, does the surgeon’s name come up? If not, then the website could use some SEO updates to get the surgeon closer in line with the search intent of patients through direct-to-consumer marketing.
Ensuring that the website is a living, breathing resource with frequent updates, such as with a blog or perhaps linked YouTube account, is another way to improve SEO, explained Dr. Mueller, as websites with consistent activity are rewarded by search engines. He mentioned that potential approaches for bolstering the website’s SEO could include focusing on increasing backlinks and writing articles as a key opinion leader (KOL) for other websites and then linking back to the surgeon’s website, among other techniques.

Zeroing in on the most effective social media and SEO strategies for individual surgeons

Interestingly, Dr. Venkateswaran noted that patients have come to her in the past and mentioned they read articles written by her, which made them interested in her work and trust her knowledge. Nowadays, patients often use social media as an educational resource. The way the general population consumes information has shifted with the advent of social media, making it crucial that surgeons reflect this shift in their own virtual presence.
Additionally, improving social media connection with the target audience and SEO requires work with evolving processes that not every practice will be able to sustain actively on their own without outside assistance. Establishing a virtual presence is a customizable journey, and she spotlighted that every surgeon should consider using whatever feels like the best fit.
Similarly, as information acquisition continues to change, Dr. Hura mentioned that it’s valuable for surgeons to understand their niche market, including geographic location and the level of saturation of ophthalmologists and refractive surgeons, to hone in on social media and SEO strategies that will work congruently with their target patient population.

Using social media to demonstrate expertise in refractive surgery

Having an active and curated online presence is a dynamic art form in which refractive surgeons don’t need to execute every single step to have success, he added. Instead, selecting a handful of strategies and performing them well has the potential to be a more sustainable approach that can exponentially help increase patient engagement and exposure.
Dr. Hura conveyed that due to the financial investment often required for refractive procedures, patients interested in pursuing self-pay procedures will ensure to check that the refractive surgeon has received positive feedback from past patients and successful previous surgical outcomes. As a result, it’s essential that refractive surgeons have a strong social media presence to provide patients with visual evidence of their expertise.
Plastic surgeons are able to leverage the fact that their surgical results are easy to assess visually (especially with before and after photographs). Subsequently, visually oriented platforms such as Instagram and TikTok lend themselves well to posting surgical results for patients to see. With this in mind, refractive surgeons would do well to take inspiration from the plastic surgery realm and apply it to refractive procedures and/or technologies.

Increasing the market penetration of refractive surgery through collaboration

Further, having satisfied and happy patients is a marquee premise to building a strong social media presence, as these patients will be the people featured in testimonials and who will provide recommendations through word of mouth, observed Dr. Mueller.
It’s possible to amplify a practice’s patient base by highlighting positive reviews from patients online because people interested in the surgeon’s services will see themselves reflected in the review and, if convinced, might want to come to the same surgeon to receive similar results potentially.
Dr. Mueller compared the power of positive feedback from patients that spreads through word of mouth to compounding interest, especially in tandem with posting on social media that emphasizes positive reviews from patients. He added that to build a patient base locally, he has gone to nearby optometrists and explained that he would be open to offering consultations for any unhappy post-refractive patients to generate awareness of his services.
Dr. Hura emphasized that fundamentally, approaching refractive surgery with a growth mindset and building connections with local ECPs are the most sustainable ways to grow the local refractive surgery market. By working together, refractive surgeons can collaborate to collectively generate more interest and patient exposure.
The current market penetration for refractive surgery still hovers around 1 to 2%, Dr. Hura added, so keeping an open mind and being receptive to teamwork to grow the overall exposure of refractive surgery is essential. It is counterproductive to both businesses and the field of refractive surgery to create a competitive atmosphere between surgeons and practices.

Final thoughts

To conclude, Dr. Mueller asked refractive surgeons to imagine the positive change that would come if the market penetration for refractive surgery increased even just to 3 or 4%.
As a tool for connecting with other refractive surgeons, Dr. Venkateswaran mentioned The Refractive Surgery Alliance, which has allowed her to identify surgeons nationally and internationally who perform various refractive procedures and learn from them. She mentioned that people tend to come together in forum spaces which has provided her with a positive atmosphere that values cooperation and a problem-solving mindset for challenging cases.
Nandini Venkateswaran, MD
About Nandini Venkateswaran, MD

Dr. Nandini Venkateswaran is a member of the Cornea and Refractive Surgery Service at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and an Instructor of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School. She is a fellowship-trained cataract, cornea and refractive surgeon. Dr. Venkateswaran earned her medical degree with a distinction in community health from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, where she was inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society. She completed her Ophthalmology residency at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute/University of Miami, after which she completed a fellowship in cornea, external disease and refractive surgery at Duke University.

Dr. Venkateswaran truly enjoys employing her clinical and surgical expertise and research background to treat patients with a compassionate, customized and multidisciplinary approach. She specializes in complex cataract surgery, femtosecond laser assisted cataract surgery with intraoperative aberrometry, most advanced techniques in corneal transplantation (DMEK, DSAEK, DALK, PKP), laser refractive surgery (LASIK and PRK), corneal cross-linking, anterior segment reconstruction (including secondary IOL implantation and iris repair), dry eye disease and ocular surface lesions and tumors.

Dr. Venkateswaran is an active member of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery and currently serves on several committees in these organizations. She has co-authored over 40 peer-reviewed publications and numerous book chapters early in her career. She has received several awards for her excellence in research and clinical care and has presented her scientific work at numerous national and international meetings.

Outside of work, Dr. Venkateswaran enjoys spending time with her friends and family, learning to cook, and riding her peloton bike.

Nandini Venkateswaran, MD
Brett Mueller II, DO, PhD, PCEO
About Brett Mueller II, DO, PhD, PCEO

Brett H. Mueller II, DO, PhD, PCEO is a board-certified and fellowship-trained ophthalmologist who specializes in and has performed thousands of cataract and refractive eye surgeries. With advanced fellowship training in refractive surgery through the world college of refractive surgery and visual sciences, he hones a comprehensive range of skill sets needed to diagnose, address, and treat the full spectrum of refractive surgery.

After receiving his undergraduate degree from Texas A&M University, he then received his medical degree and PhD from the University of North Texas Health Science Center. His scientific work and academic accomplishments enabled him to author over 45 publications and book chapters, present at national and international meetings, and be a recipient of several grants (including an NIH grant). He was then accepted to attend an ophthalmology residency at the University of Louisville, where he developed a reputation for being a leader amongst his colleagues, serving as chief resident, and a skilled surgeon. After finishing residency training, Dr. Mueller then completed a one-year refractive, cataract, and anterior segment fellowship through the Refractive Fellowship Network and the World College of Refractive Surgery and Visual Sciences. He now specializes in state-of-the-art laser-guided cataract surgery and advanced lens implants that reduce or eliminate the need for glasses. He also specializes in the full spectrum of refractive surgery, which includes: modern LASIK, SMILE, EVO-ICLs, Refractive Lens Exchange, PRK, and Cross-Linking.

Brett Mueller II, DO, PhD, PCEO
Arjan Hura, MD
About Arjan Hura, MD

Dr. Arjan Hura is a cataract, refractive, and anterior segment surgeon at the Maloney-Shamie Vision Institute in Los Angeles, CA. Dr. Hura is passionate about providing his patients with the highest possible medical and surgical vision care and is committed to the American Academy of Ophthalmology‘s mission of protecting sight and empowering lives. His research and clinical interests include working with the latest cutting-edge technology to constantly try to improve patient outcomes.

Prior to joining MSVI, Dr. Hura completed his fellowship at the Cleveland Eye Clinic where he performed the full spectrum of vision correction, including advanced lens laser cataract surgery, laser vision correction through LASIK, PRK, and SMILE, implantable contact lenses, corneal cross-linking, and MIGS surgery.

During his residency at the University of Cincinnati, Dr. Hura was involved in several award-winning research studies and investigator-initiated trials. He received a National Eye Institute grant to present at ARVO during his internship, and he presented at ASCRS during all three years of his ophthalmology residency and was awarded Best Paper of Session at ASCRS 2019.

Arjan Hura, MD
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