Introduction: Patients are increasingly relying on online patient education resources to inquire about individual physicians. However, there is little research studying the online presence of neurosurgeons across the country. This study aims to characterize the online profiles and outline the scope of their digital identities.
Methods: Medicare-participating neurological surgeons from the United States and Puerto Rico were identified using the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Physician Comparable Downloadable File. Each surgeon was characterized by their medical school, graduation year, city of practice, gender, and affiliation to an academic institution. Using a Google-based custom search tool, the top ten search results for each physician were extracted and categorized as one of the following: (1) physician, hospital, or healthcare system controlled, (2) third-party or government controlled, (3) social media based, (4) peer-reviewed article, or (5) other.
Results: Amongst the physicians within the CMS database, 4,751 self-identified as being neurosurgeons, yielding a total of 45,875 search results. Of these, 2317 (48.8%) and 2434 (51.2%) were classified as academic and nonacademic neurosurgeons, respectively. At least one search result was obtained for every physician. Hospital, health system, or physician-controlled websites (18,206; 39.7%) and third-party websites (17,122; 37.3%) were the two most commonly observed domain types. Websites belonging to social media platforms accounted for 4,843 (10.6%) hits, and websites belonging to peer-reviewed academic journals accounted for 1,888 (4.1%) results. The frequency with which a third-party domain appeared as the 1st search result was higher for nonacademic neurosurgeons as compared to academic neurosurgeons.
Conclusions: In general, non-academic neurosurgeons’ identities lack the pre-existing infrastructure granted by academic institutions’ webpages. Third-party web domains are often used for representation in these cases. Overall, appropriate representation in an online domain is increasingly important given patients’ reliance on online healthcare-oriented information.
Patient Care: This study examines the digital identities of neurosurgeons in the U.S. Given the reliance of patients on online patient education materials, this is especially important to consider.
Learning Objectives: By the conclusion of this session, participants should be able to characterize U.S. neurosurgeons' online profiles and digital identities.