Eye care: In the eye of the beholder

The investigators set out to determine how well ophthalmologists actually are represented when individuals conduct a Google searched compared with their proportion in each U.S. county.

A recent study1 found that the search results carried out by potential patients who are searching online for “eye doctor near me” may “underrepresent ophthalmologists, potentially undervaluing the role ophthalmologists play as eye care professionals.”

For ophthalmologists to continue to clarify and maintain their role as eye physicians and surgeons, ophthalmologists may want to understand how they are viewed in the public eye and online, according to Rebecca Soares, MD, MPH, and colleagues from the Retina Service, Wills Eye Hospital, Mid Atlantic Retina, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, and Ophthalmic Consultants of Boston, Boston.

The investigators set out to determine how well ophthalmologists actually are represented when individuals conduct a Google searched compared with their proportion in each U.S. county.

Soares and colleagues conducted a population-based, cross-sectional study in which they used publicly available data on ophthalmologists and optometrists and a Google search application programming interface to search “eye doctor near me” in each U.S. county.

The top 10 sites and 3 Google map links that excluded physician ratings sites, were collected and data from the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimated the actual numbers of the 2 eye professions in each county, they explained.

The research team included data from 2,955 counties from 52 states and territories. The main study finding was that the Google search showed that the mean proportion of ophthalmologists was 28.91%, which was in contrast to their actual proportion of 37.58%.

“Ophthalmologists were underrepresented by Google in 35 of 52 states and territories (67.3%),” they stated.

“In most counties in the U.S., Google search of the phrase ‘eye doctor near me’ may underrepresent ophthalmologists. Ophthalmologists may want to pursue search engine optimization to try to achieve balanced representation online,” the researchers concluded.

Reference

Soares RR, Nahar A, Mahmoudzadeh R, et al. A geographic analysis of Google characterizations of who is an "eye doctor" across the US. JAMA Ophthalmol. 2022;140:1174-1178. doi:10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2022.4343

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