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World Neurosurg. 2018 May;113:e172-e178. doi: 10.1016/j.wneu.2018.01.210. Epub 2018 Feb 7.

Digital Footprint of Neurological Surgeons.

Author information

Department of Neurological Surgery, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, Newark, New Jersey, USA.
Department of Neurological Surgery, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.
Department of Radiation Oncology, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.
Department of Neurological Surgery, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. Electronic address:



Patients are increasingly turning to online resources to inquire about individual physicians and to gather health information. However, little research exists studying the online presence of neurosurgeons across the country. This study aimed to characterize these online profiles and assess the scope of neurosurgeons' digital identities.


Medicare-participating neurologic surgeons from the United States and Puerto Rico were identified using the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Physician Comparable Downloadable File. Each physician was characterized by his or her medical education, graduation year, city of practice, gender, and affiliation with an academic institution. Using a Google-based custom search tool, the top 10 search results for each physician were extracted and categorized as 1 of the following: 1) physician, hospital, or healthcare system controlled, 2) third-party or government controlled, 3) social media-based, 4) primary journal article, or 5) other.


Among the physicians within the CMS database, 4751 self-identified as being neurosurgeons, yielding a total of 45,875 uniform resource locator search results pertinent to these physicians. Of the 4751 neurosurgeons, 2317 (48.8%) and 2434 (51.2%) were classified as academic and nonacademic neurosurgeons, respectively. At least 1 search result was obtained for every physician. Hospital, healthcare system, or physician-controlled websites (18,206; 39.7%) and third-party websites (17,122; 37.3%) were the 2 most commonly observed domain types. Websites belonging to social media platforms accounted for 4843 (10.6%) search results, and websites belonging to peer-reviewed academic journals accounted for 1888 (4.1%) search results. The frequency with which a third-party domain appeared as the first search result was higher for nonacademic neurosurgeons than for academic neurosurgeons.


In general, neurosurgeons lacked a controllable online presence within their first page of Google Search results. Third-party physician rating websites constituted about half of the search results, and a relative lack of social media websites was apparent. Still, numerous opportunities exist for neurosurgeons to address this disparity.


Digital footprint; Google; Neurosurgery; Online healthcare information; Online presence; Physician rating sites

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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