Study: Google Placement Favors Physicians’ Social Media Presence–Not Smarts and Skills

Patients find plastic surgeons based on their popularity online and often ignore their experience, expertise, and ability, suggests a study published in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal, one of the two official publications of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS/The Aesthetic Society).

In the study, researchers conducted a Google.com search in the top 25 United States metropolitan areas to identify the top 20 websites of board-certified plastic surgeons. Social media presence was quantified by tracking the number of followers on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for every surgeon, as well as medical school and year of graduation.

Through a multivariate logistic regression analysis, it became evident that the total number of social media followers is associated with Google first-page placement, while medical school ranking and years in practice, were not, explains a media release from ASAPS.

“Surprisingly, Google is delivering patients style (online social media presence), over substance (academic pedigree, years of experience, etc), which is a bit disconcerting,” states Dr Clark F. Schierle, MD, PhD, FACS, an author of the study.

“Google’s current algorithms are fueling the transition to this new business model, which means that patients believe a first-page ranking on Google is more important than a physician’s experience, expertise, and ability,” he notes.

The study shows what Schierle and his co-authors have suspected for some time, that the old paradigm of patients finding plastic surgeons through referrals, word-of-mouth, a surgeon’s reputation, and academic pedigree is over. Having a strong social media following is what now drives patients into plastic surgeons’ offices, the release continues.

Patients have increasingly been using online resources to make healthcare decisions and have a tendency to trust and value the ratings that providers receive online. As the understanding and use of social media has grown, it has become a natural marketing venue for providers of aesthetic surgery due to its low cost and ability to reach a wide audience.

The proliferation of preoperative and postoperative photos, intraoperative videos, and graphic explanations of the procedures offered appeals to many potential patients, as evidenced by many of the hugely popular social media accounts belonging to aesthetic surgery providers.

“This also raises questions regarding professional etiquette on these social media channels, especially in light of some aesthetic providers’ harmful behavior,” Schierle concludes in the release.

[Source(s): American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, PR Newswire]