How we order the search results

by jerry on April 07, 2012
Occasionally, we've gotten questions about how the search results are sorted. For all of you who are wondering, we don't order the search results based on quality. This is in large part due to our philosophy that the field of medicine is complex and that quality means different things to different people. Does quality mean healing patients the fastest? Healing people with the least pain? Does it mean preventing his or her patients from getting sick in the first place? Not only is the meaning of quality ambiguous, but meaningfully assessing quality based on publicly available data is very difficult. For example, would you prefer to see a doctor who recently completed a prestigious training program or a doctor who has twenty years of experience, but who trained at a residency that few people have heard of? Even people within the medical community would disagree on the answer to that.

Additionally, the emphasis for quality probably differs for the different specialties. For a person's primary care, communication skills will be important -- you want to be able to freely communicate with your doctor to convey what's bothering you. For a surgeon, you probably care more about technical skill and how many times the doctor has performed similar procedures.

The needs of a patient will also help determine what are the most appropriate qualities to look for in a doctor. For example, a parent of a child with a rare disorder might only care about how much experience pediatric specialists have treating patients with that specific disorder and might especially esteem research in that area. A busy and healthy professional might not care about research, but rather care that the doctor offers amenities like secure messaging.

Hence, rather than presume to know what's most appropriate for you, we instead strive to offer you a powerful search interface that offers you customized results based on your expressed preferences. When there are multiple matches for what you're looking for, you can narrow the list down by using the filters, now located at the top of the search results page. There might continue to be multiple matches, and that brings us back to the original question of how we sort the search results.

We currently order the results based on how much information we have on the doctor. The theory is that the more information that we have about a doctor, the easier it is for a patient to decide whether that doctor is an appropriate match. Incidentally, the more information that we have about a doctor, the more searches that doctor is likely to show up in. For example, if a patient filters for a specific insurance plan, our search results should only include doctors for which we believe accept that plan. Right now, we measure breadth of information, not depth. That is to say, having five phone numbers does not get a doctor's listing higher, but listing one award and one amenity (such as online scheduling of appointments) does raise that doctor's listing. We plan on tweaking this scoring algorithm as time goes on, but we encourage doctors who want to be found to claim their profiles and fill out what they want others to know about them.