Patients are finding it easier to use online resources to discover health care providers who fit their personalized needs. In the United States, approximately 70% of individuals use the internet to find health care information, and 80% are influenced by the information presented to them on health care websites.1 Patients utilize the internet to better understand treatments offered by providers and their prices as well as how other patients have rated their experience. Providers in private practice also have noticed that many patients are referring themselves vs obtaining a referral from another provider.2 As a result, it is critical for practice websites to have information that is of value to their patients, including the unique qualities and treatments offered. The purpose of this study was to analyze the differences between the content presented on dermatology private practice websites and academic institutional websites.
Websites Searched —All 140 academic dermatology programs, including both allopathic and osteopathic programs, were queried from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) database in March 2022. 3 First, the dermatology departmental websites for each program were analyzed to see if they contained information pertinent to patients. Any website that lacked this information or only had information relevant to the dermatology residency program was excluded from the study. After exclusion, a total of 113 websites were used in the academic website cohort. The private practices were found through an incognito Google search with the search term dermatologist and matched to be within 5 miles of each academic institution. The private practices that included at least one board-certified dermatologist and received the highest number of reviews on Google compared to other practices in the same region—a measure of online reputation—were selected to be in the private practice cohort (N = 113). Any duplicate practices, practices belonging to the same conglomerate company, or multispecialty clinics were excluded from the study. Board-certified dermatologists were confirmed using the Find a Dermatologist tool on the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) website. 4
Website Assessments —Each website was assessed using 23 criteria divided into 4 categories: practice, physician(s), patient, and treatment/procedure (Table). Criteria for social media and publicity were further assessed. Criteria for social media included links on the website to a Facebook page, an Instagram account, a Twitter account, a Pinterest account, a LinkedIn account, a blog, a Yelp page, a YouTube channel, and/or any other social media. Criteria for publicity included links on the website to local television news, national news, newspapers, and/or magazines. 5-8 Ease of site access was determined if the website was the first search result found on Google when searching for each website. Nondermatology professionals included listing of mid-level providers or researchers.
Four individuals (V.S.J., A.C.B., M.E.O., and M.B.B.) independently assessed each of the websites using the established criteria. Each criterion was defined and discussed prior to data collection to maintain consistency. The criteria were determined as being present if the website clearly displayed, stated, explained, or linked to the relevant content. If the website did not directly contain the content, it was determined that the criteria were absent. One other individual (J.P.) independently cross-examined the data for consistency and evaluated for any discrepancies. 8
A raw analysis was done between each cohort. Another analysis was done that controlled for population density and the proportionate population age in each city 9 in which an academic institution/private practice was located. We proposed that more densely populated cities naturally may have more competition between practices, which may result in more optimized websites. 10 We also anticipated similar findings in cities with younger populations, as the younger demographic may be more likely to utilize and value online information when compared to older populations. 11 The websites for each cohort were equally divided into 3 tiers of population density (not shown) and population age (not shown).
Statistical Analysis —Statistical analysis was completed using descriptive statistics, χ 2 testing, and Fisher exact tests where appropriate with a predetermined level of significance of P < .05 in Microsoft Excel.
Demographics —A total of 226 websites from both private practices and academic institutions were evaluated. Of them, only 108 private practices and 108 academic institutions listed practicing dermatologists on their site. Of 108 private practices, 76 (70.4%) had more than one practicing board-certified dermatologist. Of 108 academic institutions, all 108 (100%) institutions had more than one practicing board-certified dermatologist.