So what do you need to know about these new domains?
1. Will patients come looking for me on .health? The bottom line is that it’s highly unlikely patients will try to guess permutations of your name with the .health appended. According to a 2013 Pew study, eight in ten people start their health queries at the Google machine — clicking through the path of least resistance. And as it stands, unless you have some serious search engine optimization mojo, your existing online profiles at .edu or LinkedIn will surface first.
2. Who else will occupy .health with me? If you were moving into a neighborhood, you’d probably choose realtors who have all the listings and know the area best. Most realtors also help landlords verify tenant eligibility with credit checks and checking applications.
Same idea with new top level domains. For online domains, the landlord is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which oversees new domains. ICANN selects certain marketing companies that act as realtors to market and sell the domains. In this case, ICANN seems to be assigning marketing rights to companies that some observers worry will not perform any background checks or validation of prospective .health neighbors.
Tim K. Mackey, MAS, PhD, an investigator at the San Diego Center for Patient Safety at the University of San Diego, scrutinized .health’s potential “realtors” in a recent paper published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. Only one company has any controls, and it’s unclear if they will follow up/monitor them. Mackey singled out Donuts Inc., one of the four companies vying for marketing rights to sell the .health domains.
“The way ICANN is treating .health now, it will likely be awarded in a month or so to a private company that has virtually no experience in medicine or public health,” Mackey wrote in an email to MedPage Today. “A lot of these companies are under serious pressure to make the domain profitable, so they will open it up to pretty much anyone for registration.”
Jon Nevett, co-founder of Donuts, told MedPage Today in a phone interview that the validation requirements fall on the shoulders of a government advisory committee.
“We believe in consumer choice,” Nevett said. “The committee determined there should be opportunities for people to buy domains like financial.health and computer.health.”
3. Should doctors grab a .health domain? If doctors wanted to pre-empt misleading information by moving into the neighborhood first, that might help. But on the other hand, “if .health ends up being populated with poor information, it may not be of value and worth waiting out,” Mackey said.
4. What are the alternatives? Doctors might be better off waiting for domains such as .doctor, .medical, or .surgery, which are in the works, according to Mackey and Nevett. The government advisory committee hasdetermined that those domains will be what’s known as “highly regulated,” while .health domains are simply “regulated.”
Mackey added that two out of three of the .doctor marketing company applicants have said that future registrants will be limited to physicians with applicable licenses.
5. How much will it cost? Based on the way other specialty domains have sold, Nevett estimates that domains like .doctor will likely cost around $40 on average, compared to roughly $20 for a .com.
The bottom line?
“Medical professionals can select better domain names that mean more, and provide value for doctors like branding a new practice,” Nevett said. “You won’t need the .com anymore.”
Elbert Chu is an associate producer, MedPage Today, where this article originally appeared.