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Social media: engaging the optical profession: Frances Ramsay tells OT how social media could be used to improve engagement with her Oxfordshire LOC.

"ENGAGEMENT is defined as having a positive attitude towards the organisation and its values' and it is driven by both feeling valued and involvement," (Robinson et al 2004). The success of local eye health services depends on practitioners engaging with their local optical committee (LOC), and participating in community pathways. Limited engagement with contractors and performers translates into low commitment to the future of commissioning pathways and low levels of relevance between LOC initiatives and the community it aims to serve.

As part of the LOCSU-sponsored leadership course at WOPEC, I investigated how Oxfordshire LOC could improve regional engagement through using online platforms and social media. Specifically, I wanted to find out how online social media forums could help identify community leaders and provide platforms to link together groups of skilled and knowledgeable people, who often work in isolation.


The Oxfordshire area is working hard to improve engagement from local eye health professionals. The collective members of the Oxfordshire LOC includes 47 contractors and 128 performers. The aim of the research was to ask the following questions:

* Can Oxfordshire LOC develop a more open and inclusive relationship with its members--improving commitment to the LOC's vision through shared knowledge and dialogue?

* Is it ready to use social platforms to develop trust and inclusion across the community?

In order to do this, the project had to investigate current levels of engagement, perceptions of online presence and the expectations of the optometric community. The investigation focused on the profession's path towards social networking and explored the perceived barriers of such practices. To answer the above questions, four research objectives were defined as:

1) Does the optometric community have positive engagement with the LOC?

2) Is the optical profession ready to move online?

3) What functionality should the LOC aim for in an online initiative?

4) What beliefs, norms and psychographics currently exist around social and online technologies?


A survey was sent to members of four regional LOC groups to find out whether members felt engaged with their LOC and its vision, and whether within our healthcare profession, local relationships and engagement levels could be improved through online communities. The survey was sent out to the entire Oxfordshire email database held by the LOC and achieved a 31% response rate from eye health practitioners in Oxfordshire. It was also emailed to three other regional LOC areas (North of Tyne, Cheshire and Dorset) that are interested in exploring improving engagement through social media.


Does the optometric community have positive engagement with its LOC?

Engagement by definition is made up of two factors--having a positive attitude towards your organisation and being involved. The responses that investigated this question found that across all respondents, the majority agreed or strongly agreed that their LOC is bound by a shared vision and collaborates well, but respondents scored lower their opinion that they have an opportunity to shape the vision. This pattern was consistent between groups that want to join the LOC in the future and those never wanting to join the LOC.

Is the optometric community ready to move online?

The survey included questions on practitioner's opinions on communication and around the benefits and barriers to having an online presence.

Most candidat es (53%) agree or strongly agree that open conversations are important to health care. There was a slightly lower opinion on whether LOCs offer the opportunity for these conversations and if the LOC communicates well itself. Most respondents agreed that being online would be beneficial to its optometric community on the three areas examined: building relationships (60%); complimenting real world interactions (53%); and improving listening skills (54%). The majority of respondents (63%) agreed that with a clear set of rules in place, online contribution can be safe.

What functionality should the LOC aim for in any online initiative?

The most important aspect for an online platform were graded by those surveyed in order of priority. The top three functions that an LOC should aim for in going online (according to respondents) are as follows:

* Being online, we can share information, news and learning amongst our community

* Being online, allows us to start and continue conversations after an in-between organised LOC events

* Being online our eye health community gains a professional presence which improves our accessibility.


The project shows that there is an opportunity to improve engagement levels with community members in Oxfordshire LOC. While the majority of members feel that LOCs are an asset, there is more work to be done to ensure that members feel involved in the vision and strategic planning of their LOC. Another aspect to this work identified that LOCs need to work especially hard on engaging with both the performers, employed and locum optometrists, and those aged 33 or younger. The performers were the group least interested in joining their LOC and those aged under 33s were the smallest proportion of overall respondents.

According to these results, the local community of eye health practitioners are ready to move to an online communications strategy. Communications is currently not optimum but open conversations where people are able to participate and share ideas and knowledge--are recognised as important for healthcare. The respondents showed an appreciation that being online enhances our real world relationships by enabling on going conversations, listening and sharing.

Recommendations for LOCs

This research proposed a number of recommendations which will be useful for many LOCs working to engage with their performers and contractors via social media. LOCs need to consider:

* Examining the current platforms available in order select the one that best meets the requirements of their local eye health community

* How they can support the development of online communities with a a clearly appointed and budgetary resource to manage the community and moderate discussions. Online communities may appear to be free; but require time of resources to ensure vibrancy and health

* Identifying and enlisting influencers and champions of social programmes in order to promote online community. These community managers will need to build relationships and trust and will ensure that online platforms remain open, honest and healthy environments

* Developing their local community to ensure that they include a wider range of stakeholders such as cross boundary LOCs, the networks with clinical commissioning groups and ther relationship with the public.

Gill Brabner, LOCSU's learning and development associate and module leader, said: "This research holds great value for other LOCs who are also endeavouring to use social media to improve levels of engagement and awareness with a wider group of eye health professionals in their region. Social media provides a great opportunity for LOCs to build engagement. This project has highlighted the needs for a specific policy and strategy for LOCs in this area."

Frances Ramsay qualified as an optometrist in 1997 in New Zealand and has been working in the UK since 2000. She is the treasurer for Oxfordshire local optometric committee.
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Title Annotation:ADVICE; local optical committee
Author:Ramsay, Frances
Publication:Optometry Today
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 20, 2013
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