Social media and vision therapy: Perspectives of providers and patients on Instagram

Instagram has over one billion users, and more than 40% of customers say information found on social media influences their health-care decisions. Providers and patients can exchange and consume information regarding diagnoses, treatments, and outcomes by using primary content of Instagram posts, which includes images, and indexed by brief hashtags. Furthermore, a rising number of ophthalmologists are using Instagram to engage with and inform patient, developing a significant digital presence through simple hashtags and posts.

The unregulated nature of social media provides insight into the patient journey by offering a platform for personal experiences that have the ability to act as sources of knowledge and support to others with similar diagnoses. Other medical areas have studies the effects of social media platforms, such as Instagram, affect patient involvement and education, as well as how social media influences clinical practice, including physician selection.

In ophthalmology, the purpose, content, and tone of posts by patients and providers associated with common diseases and procedures, such as glaucoma and refractive surgery, have been evaluated. However, compared to adult ophthalmology and other subspecialties, little research has been done on the content and tone of paediatric ophthalmology Instagram posts.

Instagram’s informal, unstructured style allows users to easily communicate evidence-based information while also making it difficult to negotiate challenging themes in a biased environment. Vision therapy is a broader term that refers to eye exercises that aim to improve binocular function, visual processing, and perception. The effectiveness of VT in improving learning difficulties is debatable. The ophthalmologic and optometric communities’ statements clearly contradict one another. The former side claims that there is a lack of scientific evidence to support the efficacy of VT in treating learning difficulties, but the American Optometric Association claims that many learning disabilities are caused by vision problems and can thus be treated with VT.

The goal of this study was to look at the landscape of a major social media platform in the context of VT by formally evaluating paediatric ophthalmology and VT for content, tone, and authorship in order to obtain themes and new patient views. We expected that VT Instagram postings would be biased in favour of promoting the therapy as a solution for prevalent paediatric ophthalmic conditions.

Results of social media study

At least 20 people liked 2,268 of the posts. Due to the elimination of 502 posts, the final analysis includes 1,766 posts from 523 unique accounts. The majority of posts had no specific target audience (59 %), with roughly a third mentioning pediatric VT patients and disorders. For half of all posts, VT clinics or therapists were responsible. The next largest shares of Instagram posts were found to be held by personal accounts (20%) and businesses (19%). Only 14 posts (0.8%) came from doctors, whereas 181 posts (ten percent) came from ODs. The majority of pediatric VT posts (59%) were from VT clinics or therapists, with only 18% originating from personal accounts of parents or patients. The majority of the posts (51%) were self-promotional in nature, with research (0.2%) and patient education (2%) being the least popular objectives of the posts. The majority of self-promotion posts (66%) came from VT clinics or therapists, while personal accounts accounted for the majority of personal experience posts (54%). Nearly 90% of all advertisement posts were placed by businesses, VT clinics, or therapists. Nearly one-third of all general VT education posts were published by VT clinics or therapists, while companies accounted for 29% of all general VT education posts. There was a strong connection between post owner and intent.

The majority of posts were self-promotional in nature (51%), with research (0.2%) and patient education (2%) constituting the least popular aims of the posts. VT clinics or therapists were responsible for the majority of self-promotion posts (66%), whereas personal accounts comprised the largest proportion of personal experience posts (54%).

Companies and VT clinics or therapists accounted for almost 90% of all advertisement posts. VT clinics or therapists were responsible for nearly one third of general VT education posts; companies posted 29% of all general VT education posts. There was a significant association between post owner and intent.

References to scientific literature or other sources of in-formation were absent in 94% of posts. Of those posts that provided VT advice, over 87% had no references, with several promoting controversial claims. Only 14% of VT clinic or therapist posts addressed a diagnosis, whereas over a third of personal account posts were associated with a diagnosis. Of the posts that addressed a specific diagnosis, less than 20% provided advice. VT clinics or therapists were responsible for the majority of amblyopia posts (57%); personal accounts addressed the majority of refractive error (75%), cortical visual impairment (60%), learning disability/develop-mental delay (54%), and cerebral palsy (67%) posts. Physicians were responsible for 1% of strabismus posts and 0.8% of other diagnosis posts.

In conclusion

In the day and age in which credible online sources are being replaced as key information sources for many by social media, the findings of this study are especially disturbing and our team at Smart Optometry is strongly committed to providing relevant and informative content over pure promotional materials. While this is a business / product channel, we strive primarily to inform and educate, because low awareness is one of the key preventing factors limiting proliferation of better child eye health worldwide. We encourage others to sap from their experience and provide their followers with insight into this important profession.

Source: Johnson, A., Khan, S., & Koo, E. B. (2021). Social media and vision therapy: Perspectives of providers and patients on Instagram. Journal of American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, 25(3), 166.e1-166.e5. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaapos.2020.11.023

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