What do your patients see when they Google you?

2016 08 31 15 19 14 777 Search Keyboard Button Magnifying Glass 400

Before the internet, patients who wanted to learn more about their healthcare providers had to rely on word-of-mouth networks. Now, patients can easily search for information about individual physicians -- and radiologists need to know what they're finding, according to an August 30 study in the American Journal of Roentgenology.

"As patients more readily access the names of radiologists interpreting their imaging studies, they will likely seek information about these radiologists with increasing frequency," wrote a team led by Dr. Arvind Vijayasarathi from Emory University Hospital.

And it's important to keep in mind that when patients use search engines like Google, they tend to focus on the first page of results, according to the group.

"Google is the most popular search engine in the United States, but most users view only the first page of Google search results, suggesting that information provided on the first page disproportionately influences the knowledge and opinions of patients," the authors wrote.

What's out there?

To learn more about what patients find when they Google radiologists, Vijayasarathi and colleagues used data from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to identify all Medicare-participating U.S. radiologists. The group tracked the top 10 Google search results for each radiologist, categorizing the website domains found as physician- or institution-controlled, third-party physician rating sites, social media, or other (AJR, August 30, 2016).

From the CMS data, 30,601 providers identified themselves as radiologists. There was a least one search result for 99% of these, which resulted in a total of 305,795 websites.

Physician rating sites made up 70% of the search results, according to Vijayasarathi's team. After these, 18% were physician- or institution-controlled, 1% were social media platforms, 2.1% were other, and 9.5% were not classified.

The following were the top 10 most frequently occurring domains:

  1. Healthgrades.com
  2. Vitals.com
  3. Health.usnews.com
  4. Doximity.com
  5. Ucomparehealthcare.com
  6. Doctor.webmd.com
  7. Sharecare.com
  8. Healthcare6.com
  9. Zocdoc.com
  10. Topnpi.com

With the exception of Doximity.com, all of these are third-party physician rating sites, the authors noted.

So what was their conclusion? The online presence of radiologists is shaped by these third-party sites, which means that radiologists don't have much control over the content that patients find.

"These results are particularly important for radiology in the modern era, as patients are granted increasing access to their medical records and the names of interpreting radiologists," Vijayasarathi and colleagues wrote. "In many circumstances, a web search may be the only mechanism by which patients can learn about their interpreting radiologists."

Be proactive

Compared with other physicians, a strong web presence could be of greater importance to radiologists because they have limited direct contact with patients and, therefore, limited opportunities to influence patients' perceptions. So the field is wide open, according to the authors.

"Opportunities exist for individual radiologists and radiology groups to promote physician-controlled content to the first page of Google search results by optimizing the searchability of group and institutional web pages while also maintaining an active presence on popular social media platforms," they wrote.

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