How Do Consumer and Physician Care Priorities Compare?

May 23, 2016


In an ideal world, what would consumers really want to know about your physicians—and how does it compare to physicians’ referral priorities?

Until a few years ago, consumer access to information about potential doctors was limited to basic demographics: name, location, insurance accepted, and whether or not they were accepting new patients. Meanwhile, physicians considering a patient referral to another physician had to rely on personal knowledge of personality and peer word-of-mouth regarding clinical reputation.

The advent of the Affordable Care Act and the rapid spread of high-deductible health plans and narrow networks have accelerated consumer demands for more information. Similarly, physicians in ACOs and other quality-based reimbursement arrangements want more objective data when referring their patients to another physician.

A recent Healthgrades study, referenced in HealthLeaders’ April cover story, found some surprising commonalities in what consumers and physicians want to know about potential doctors.

Primary and Non-Complex Care

Relationships Matter: Subjective patient satisfaction ratings are very important to consumers seeking a primary care provider. Similarly, physicians making a referral for routine care prioritize another physician’s patient satisfaction ratings. Both consumers and physicians know that patients’ relationships with their PCPs (and the office staff) can impact their health. So factors such as trust, communication skills, responsive support staff, and appointment availability matter.

Physician Experience is the Linchpin: Nearly 70% of consumers rate a potential primary care physician’s experience as important. When considering a patient referral, physicians also put specific experience first. Ensuring a doctor focuses a significant portion of his practice on a patient’s specific medical concerns is the first step to meeting health needs. Verifying that he sees a significant volume of similar patients helps to confirm up-to-date skills and knowledge.

Consumers Distinguish between Primary Care and Hospitalizations: Consumers selecting a specialist place more emphasis on associated hospital quality than they do when seeking a primary care provider. This finding makes sense, given that primary care takes place in an outpatient setting. Consumers seeking specialty care are more likely to anticipate a hospital stay.

Specialty Care

Experience and Outcomes are Top Priority: Consumers are twice as likely to choose a given specialist when provided with three objective criteria: specific experience, hospital quality, and patient satisfaction. Given access to just the first two criteria, 85% of patients would change their original choice of specialist.

There is a Demand for More Information: Over 60% of specialists agree having additional information about other physicians would help them make better referrals. This finding confirms that it’s not just consumers who want more objective and multi-dimensional information on physicians to make a good choice.

Complex and Unique Patient Needs Require Equivalent Experience: When patient needs become more complex or unusual, physician experience becomes the top referral consideration. About 85% of physicians rate information on specialist experience as very valuable. They are particularly interested in the concentration of a given specialist’s practice devoted to a specific condition or procedure, and the volume of patients seen for that condition or procedure.

Several related trends in consumer and physician information priorities emerged within this study. First, patient satisfaction is more important in primary and routine care. Second, hospital quality increases in importance when seeking specialist care. Third, information on specific physician experience is vital throughout the care continuum.

So what do consumers and referring physicians have in common? They seek the right care, with the right doctor, based on multi-dimensional information. Consumers and physicians agree: more information supports better choices.

Back to April 2016