Plastic Surgeons and Google
In busy markets like New York, cosmetic surgery patients often use Google to research plastic surgeons. That makes complete sense—as long as people know what they’re getting.
When a search engine yields the first listings from any query you make, do you stop and think about why those results came out on top?
In the case of cosmetic surgery, the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) has thought about it. In fact, knowing that patients “increasingly rely on online resources to make healthcare decisions,” a few members of this group of board certified plastic surgeons performed a study to discover just how Google ranks cosmetic surgery practices.
The team of Chicago-based doctors set out to uncover how practices in the top 25 U.S. metropolitan areas land on the first page of Google results. The researchers compared the relative importance of surgeon credentials—specifically academic standing and years in practice—with their social media presence, meaning followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The Study’s Findings
If you know a bit about the way search engines work, it may not surprise you to learn what the researchers found. The study demonstrated that Google front page rankings were influenced by aggressive social media marketing, but not by actual physician credentials.
This is just how it is with Google. The platform was designed from the start to show users the most popular product or service they’re researching; actual quality is more difficult to measure. In our view, it’s critical that prospective patients understand this characteristic of search engines.
What Google Results Tell You About Cosmetic Surgeons
When you see a cosmetic surgeon on the front page of a Google search in a busy metropolitan area, then, you should keep in mind that this tells you nothing about the doctor’s actual credentials but quite a bit about how they market their practice. You can assume that he or she spends a fair amount of money on marketing—are those costs passed along to you? You might consider that social media probably takes a slice of the doctor’s attention as well—does this mean anything for patients? For instance, would you be cared for primarily by the cosmetic surgeon or other staff?
Aggressive social media marketing is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can mislead a patient. An article in The Wall Street Journal last year discussed the fact that doctors who are not trained in cosmetic surgery at all, such as emergency room doctors and gynecologists, seem to publish a great deal of the material on social media platforms to attract patients. That’s right, if you don’t investigate further than Instagram and Snapchat, the WSJ found that you may end up with someone performing your breast augmentation or tummy tuck who has very little training in plastic surgery.
We have noted this happens often in our area. It almost seems like the lighter the credentials a doctor has for performing cosmetic procedures, the heavier-handed the marketing. We hope that most prospective patients can see beyond social media marketing that borders on “huckster-like” in some cases.
Marketing Plastic Surgery
In highly urban areas like New York, cosmetic surgery practices have a unique challenge when it comes to reaching patients. It’s important to try to reach patients via the Internet, certainly, but to conform to state laws and avoid trivializing the prospect of surgery, it’s also critical not to go overboard.
We urge patients to look beyond simple measures of doctor popularity and find out whether a cosmetic surgeon has:
• Performed a residency in plastic surgery as part of medical school training
• Certification by the American Board of Plastic Surgery
• Memberships in the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and/or the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery
• Privileges at well known, accredited hospitals nearby
• A clean record with the state medical board
• At least several years of successful practice
These are the credentials that are meaningful when it comes to choosing a cosmetic surgery practice in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and other highly competitive markets—whether social media marketing is in the mix or not. It’s interesting to note that the ASAPS study found that nearly 20% of the board certified plastic surgeons they identified in major metropolitan areas had no social media accounts at all.
Google is terrific for locating a decent hotel or figuring out which movie to see next. If you keep in mind that the search engine measures popularity, not qualifications, you can use it appropriately as part of your research into cosmetic surgeons.
If you’re looking into cosmetic surgery in New York, why not give us a look? Start with our credentials here and here!