Why Asking Google to Find You a Surgeon Is the Wrong Approach
If you wanted to find out who the best orthopedic surgeon is near you, would you ask your primary care doctor? Your family? Your friend who just had a knee replacement?
Apparently, most people just ask Google.
Studies show that 81% of Americans search for health-related information online. More than 60% of them search for doctor “near me” or “near town/city” when looking for a new healthcare provider. That got us thinking:
When you ask a search engine, Who is the best orthopedic surgeon near me?, what metrics determine who shows up on the first page of results? Is it whichever surgeons have the most and/or best online reviews? The strongest credentials? Maybe it’s the ones with the fastest websites and the best SEO optimization?
What exactly goes into that algorithm that feeds you an answer to your question about the best orthopedic surgeon near you in 0.81 seconds?
No one can say for sure (Google is constantly updating its ranking algorithms). But we do know that, in all likelihood, the first four “answers” in your search results will be ads.
Most search engines make money by serving up targeted ads triggered by a person’s query. This creates misaligned incentives in terms of giving you organic, quality answers.
To reach the top of that coveted first page of results for the question “best orthopedic surgeon near me,” marketers bid on that search term on behalf of their physician clients. Where an ad appears on the page is determined by how much someone is willing to pay for that placement. Every time someone clicks on the ad, a cost per click is incurred.
There’s nothing wrong with physicians advertising their services. There’s nothing wrong with trying to build one’s online brand.
But ad-informed search results are not the best way to get an honest answer to your healthcare questions—especially when Google is making it harder to tell the difference between ads and search results.
In this article, we’ll detail some strategies for finding a quality surgeon who meets your needs and expectations. Then we’ll show you how you can use online search tools to validate your choice.
Questions to ask yourself BEFORE you ask Google
Before you initiate a search for a new orthopedic provider, you first should ask yourself the following:
- Who is the best orthopedic surgeon for ME? What do you value in a doctor/patient relationship? Am you okay with being evaluated by physician assistants before you meet the surgeon? Or do you want a more personal experience? Where your doctor asks after your grandkids and knows you’re contemplating a hip replacement because you want to be able to play with them?
- What do I expect from an orthopedic surgeon? Do you want a doctor who explains your medical problem, engages you in decision making, and responds patiently to your questions? Or is seeing a high-volume surgeon the most important factor for you? Because even if there’s a trade-off in the time they’ll spend with you, you believe doing the most surgeries equates with doing the best job.
- Are there any non-medical factors that are really important to me? Perhaps you don’t want to drive more than twenty minutes to see a doctor. Or you prefer to see a surgeon that speaks Spanish. Maybe you just want to “go where the pros go,” or see the surgeon you heard on talk radio. These non-medical factors have nothing to do with a particular physician’s expertise, but if they’re important to you, don’t discount them when considering your options. (Fun fact: Locally, the Jacksonville Jaguars signed the first known-medical sponsorship deal in the mid-90s, with health care providers cutting deals with the team for the right to advertise themselves as the franchise’s “official choice.”)
Questions to ask others
- Ask your primary care physician for the names of orthopedic surgeons that s/he likes and trusts. Your doctor will have detailed knowledge about the orthopedic specialists in your area. They will be familiar with a surgeon’s credentials, bedside manner, reputation, outcomes and other factors into which search engine algorithms simply don’t have insight. Of course, other factors might influence which specialists they recommend, including whether the surgeon is within your insurance carrier’s network of “preferred” providers.
- Ask your family, friends and peers who they would recommend. If they’ve had a positive patient experience with an orthopedic surgeon, that’s valuable insight. Physical therapists are also good resources. They work with a lot of post-operative orthopedic patients, and will be familiar with a particular surgeon’s reputation and outcomes.
- Check with your insurance. Call your insurer or consult its online provider directory to see if the surgeons you are considering accept your insurance plan. If you think you’ll need surgery, check whether the hospital where the surgeon operates is in your network. (Don’t rely solely on the online provider directories because they are often out of date. Call the physician’s office or hospital directly to verify which insurances they accept.) An impressive 44% of people say they would go to an out-of-network doctor if their reviews were better than an in-network doctor. If that includes you, you’ll want to consider the increased personal cost of seeing a physician who does not accept your insurance.
Now that you’ve got a list of names, start your online research.
1) Review each surgeon’s credentials.
Credentials matter. The quality of the institutions where the surgeon got their training is important. The residency programs in orthopedic surgery are some of the most competitive residencies in all of medicine. So if your surgeon studied at a top program, that is a good indicator of his/her expertise.
Is the surgeon board certified by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons? Did the surgeon complete a fellowship? A fellowship is an additional year of training after the required five years of general orthopedic study that focuses on a specific orthopedic specialty, such as adult reconstruction or sports medicine. Fellowship programs are extremely competitive, and enhance a surgeon’s technical skills.
How many years of experience does the surgeon have? Which medical centers are they affiliated with? You should be able to find this information on the physician’s website.
2) Verify that the surgeon specializes in the type of orthopedic care you need.
Do you need a joint replacement? If so, look for a surgeon with fellowship training in adult joint reconstruction who keeps abreast of the latest surgical procedures. Or is your rotator cuff or ACL tear your real concern? Then look for an orthopedic doctor that specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of sports injuries.
Most orthopedic specialists also do some general orthopedic procedures. But you’ll want the primary focus of their practice to be the type of surgery that you think you’ll need.
3) Check out their online patient reviews.
Now more than ever, patients depend on online reviews to guide their medical provider decisions. In fact, more than one third of patients say their physicians’ online reputation is very important—a higher percentage than in any other industry.
Patient reviews can help provide valuable feedback on a number of things, including
- how well the doctor communicates
- whether the surgeon possesses the qualities you’ve determined are important to you
- If the staff is friendly and responsive
- the overall quality of care provided
General review sites like Google and Yelp can be helpful. However, industry-specific sites like WebMD, Healthgrades, and Vitals tend to provide more in-depth reviews and a wider range of evaluation metrics for your consideration.
Of course, it’s important to recognize that online reviews can be subjective and idiosyncratic. They certainly don’t capture everything there is to know about a surgeon. As a Mayo Clinic study demonstrated, unverified online patient reviews do not always correlate with actual patient experience. Also, patient reviews are often based on something that has nothing to do with the surgeon’s medical expertise, such office wait times.
Other things to consider (or NOT)
- Is the physician active on social media? Some doctors have developed impressive online followings. When they use those channels to inform patients and demystify procedures, it can provide real value to patients and non-patients alike. However, while Facebook, Instagram and YouTube might give you a feel for a physician’s personality and interests, view them as the marketing tools they are, rather than as a reliable indicator of a surgeon’s skill.
- Do they have a great website? A solid website that convey’s the practice’s philosophy can be informative. One that loads quickly on both desktop and mobile platforms demonstrates care for the end-user experience. But there is zero correlation between a practice website and the surgeon’s medical expertise.
Now that you’ve done your research and scheduled your first appointment, take note of how you’re treated. The orthopedic surgeon you’ve selected should demonstrate an interest in getting to know you and why you’re seeking care. He or she should discuss your treatment preferences, and respect your decision-making process. Ultimately, you should feel confidence in the surgeon’s skills and the treatment plan recommended for you.
At OrthoEdge, we are committed to providing a quality patient experience. We invest heavily in the time spent with patients from the first phone call. We work to build trust and accountability into everything we do. We are honored when patients come to us for their orthopedic care. As you review your options for orthopedic care, we hope you will consider OrthoEdge.