Conference Coverage

Survey explores the role of social media in choosing a dermatologist


Fewer than one-quarter of consumers rely heavily on social media for choosing a dermatologist, results from an online survey suggest.

Dr. Kamaria Nelson

In a video presentation during a virtual meeting held by the George Washington University department of dermatology, Kamaria Nelson, MD, said that, as of 2019, 79% of Americans have a social media account, with the majority using platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. “There’s also a high predominance of social media use in the dermatology field, with many dermatologists assuming that it will improve their personal brands,” said Dr. Nelson, a research fellow in the department of dermatology at George Washington University, Washington. “Some even hire social media managers to monitor online reviews and mitigate any damage. So, although social media is commonly used, it’s unknown if it impacts patient knowledge, access to health care, or provider choice.”

To evaluate how social media influences patients when choosing a dermatologist, she and her colleagues used Survey Monkey to create a 10-item questionnaire that they distributed to 1,481 individuals in the general U.S. population in May 2019. Individuals qualified for the study if they used social media and if they had ever been to a dermatologist. Dr. Nelson reported that 726 individuals (58%) qualified for the survey and 715 completed it, for a response rate of 98%. The researchers used Chi-square tests to compare frequency and importance of social media by visit type, age, gender, and educational level.

When the respondents were stratified by visit type, 43% who saw a dermatologist for cosmetic reasons were more likely to view social media as “extremely important” or “very important,” compared with 15% of patients who saw a dermatologist for medical reasons (P less than .0001).

When stratified by age, about 12% of respondents between the ages of 18 and 44 years considered social media as extremely important when choosing a dermatologist, compared with only 9% of those aged 45-60 years and about 2% of those older than age 60 (P less than .0001).

When stratified by educational level, 30% of respondents with a high school degree or less were more likely to view social media as extremely important or very important when choosing a dermatologist, while 62% of those with more than a high school degree were more likely to view social media as “not at all important” or only “slightly important” (P = .0006).

One of the survey questions was, “When choosing a dermatologist to see, how important is his or her social media site?” Only 9% of respondents said extremely important, 13% said very important, 21% said “moderately important,” 24% said slightly important, and 33% said not at all important. “This left about 22% of respondents who viewed the social media site as extremely important or very important when choosing a dermatologist,” Dr. Nelson said.

Factors deemed important on a dermatologist’s social media profile were patient reviews (68%), years of experience (61%), and the amount of medical information written by the dermatologist (59%).

“There seems to be a low reliance on social media when selecting a dermatologist,” Dr. Nelson concluded. “We also found that cosmetic patients, patients with lower levels of education, and younger patients were more likely to value social media. Therefore, social media may only be useful for targeting specific patient populations. When doing so, medical information written by a provider is most often desired.”

The virtual meeting included presentations that had been slated for the annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology, which was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Nelson reported having no disclosures.

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