Prospective observational study.
The objective of this study is to identify correlates of search ranking among academic pedigree, online ratings, and social media following.
Summary of Background Data.
Patients increasingly rely on online search in selecting healthcare providers. When choosing a spine surgeon, patients typically value surgical skill and experience as well as demeanor/bedside manner. It is unclear whether current search engine ranking algorithms reflect these preferences.
A Google.com search for the top 25 spine surgeon websites by search ranking was conducted for each of the largest 25 American cities. Resulting websites were then perused for academic pedigree, experience, and practice characteristics. Surgeons’ research output and impact were then quantified via number of publications and H-index. Online ratings and followers in various social media outlets were also noted. These variables were assessed as possible correlates of search ranking via linear regression and multivariate analyses of variance.
A total of 625 surgeons were included. Three categorical variables were identified as significant correlates of higher mean Google search ranking—orthopedics (vs. neurosurgery) as a surgical specialty (P = 0.023), board certification (P = 0.024), and graduation from a top 40 residency program (P = 0.046). Although the majority of the identified surgeons received an allopathic medical education, there was no significant difference in the mean rank of surgeons who had an MD versus DO medical degree (P = 0.530). Additionally, none of the continuous variables collected, including years in practice (P = 0.947), publications (P = 0.527), H-index (P = 0.278), social media following such as on Facebook (P = 0.105), or online ratings such as on Healthgrades (P = 0.080), were significant correlates of Google search ranking.
Google search rankings do not always align with patient preferences, currently promoting orthopedic over neurosurgical specialists, graduation from top residency programs, and board certification, while largely ignoring academic pedigree, research, social media presence, and online ratings.
Level of Evidence: 3