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Physician's online image and patient's choice in the online health community

Peng Ouyang (School of Economics and Management, Dalian University of Technology, Dalian, China)
Jian-Jun Wang (School of Economics and Management, Dalian University of Technology, Dalian, China)

Internet Research

ISSN: 1066-2243

Article publication date: 14 March 2022

Issue publication date: 2 November 2022




The impact of image is widely investigated in various research fields. However, its effect in online health communities is rarely studied. In this research, the authors develop a theoretical model to assess the impact of physicians' image on patients' choices in online health communities.


The authors developed a web crawler based on R language program to collect more than 40,000 physicians' images and other related information from their homepages in–a leading online health community in China. The features of physicians' images are computed by Face++ Application Programming Interface (API) through the following variables: beauty, smile and skin status.


The empirical results derive the following findings: (1) physician's beauty or physical attractiveness has no significant effect on patients’ choice; (2) Smile has a positive effect on patients’ choices; (3) Physician's skin status also positively affects patients' choices; (4) Physician's professional capital strengthens the effect of beauty, smile and skin status on patients' choices; (5) Beauty and skin status are the substitutes for each other, and smile and skin status are the substitutes for each other too.

Research limitations/implications

Also, this study provides implications for both physicians and online health community platform managers.


This study provides new evidence in understanding the impact of physician's online image and contributes to the literature on signaling theory, impression management theory and patients' choices.



The authors thank the editor-in-chief, Professor Christy Cheung, for her precious time, and the associate editor and two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions.

Declarations of interest: None.

Funding: The study is funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, award number 71903020 and 71672019; The Ministry of Education of the People's Republic of China Humanities and Social Sciences Youth Foundation, award number 19YJC790174; Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities, award number DUT21RW406; and Major Projects of Social /Science Planning Foundation of Liaoning Province, award number L21ZD006.


Ouyang, P. and Wang, J.-J. (2022), "Physician's online image and patient's choice in the online health community", Internet Research, Vol. 32 No. 6, pp. 1952-1977.



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