Patients now find plastic surgeons online, favoring the first-page results from Google, and the total number of social media followers is associated with Google first-page placement, while medical school ranking and years in practice is not, according to a new study in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal.
"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, a Chicago plastic surgeon and an author of the study, in a news release. "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."
Researchers conducted Google searches 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. The primary outcome was website ranking in the first page of Google search results. To identify the independent predictors of presence on the front page, they performed a multivariate logistic regression.
The total number of social medial followers was associated with Google front-page placement (P < 0.001), whereas medical school ranking and years in practice were not (P = 0.17 and 0.39, respectively), the study found. A total 19.6 percent of plastic surgeon practices in the study cohort still had no social media accounts.
The bottom line? Having a strong social media following is what now drives patients into plastic surgeons' offices.
"This also raises questions regarding professional etiquette on these social media channels, especially in light of some aesthetic providers' harmful behavior," Schierle explains.