How Patients Actually Choose Providers

February 24, 2017

Does your marketing focus on real or perceived patient choice drivers?

Is this the right doctor?

If you follow the lead of hospitals advertising expensive technologies or new facilities, you may want to reevaluate your strategy. According to new Healthgrades/Health Management Academy research, patient healthcare decision-making is based on more sophisticated reasoning.

Urgent versus Emergent Healthcare Needs

First of all, patients differentiate between urgent and emergent health issues. When they have the flu or a painful knee, accessibility and appointment availability matter most, at 21% of responses. Care quality comes a close second, at 19% of responses. For these non-emergent types of care needs, getting in to see a doctor quickly and easily is most important. Doctor reputation and even recommendations from family and friends hold less importance.

When patients have a serious or life-threatening health issue, their priorities change. While 67% of respondents would choose a lower-rated doctor with shorter wait times for the flu, 47% would wait longer for a higher-rated doctor if they had serious chronic head pain. Higher earners and those 65 years of age or older are most likely to prioritize patient satisfaction ratings over convenience when they have a serious health issue. They focus on the primary indicator of physician quality available to them.

How Consumers Define Physician Quality

But savvy consumers don’t hold all patient reviews equal. They have an intuitive understanding of the multiple facets of physician care quality. What does quality mean to them? The top survey response, from nearly a quarter of respondents, indicates that quality healthcare means good outcomes or results. Doctor reputation and timely and efficient care tie for second at 18% of responses. Tellingly, having the latest technology and modern facilities were not top of mind, coming in within the bottom four choices.

These responses mean that consumers are parsing patient reviews for the most relevant aspects of physician quality. When they have a serious health issue, they are looking for patient responses indicating positive care outcomes first.

Experience Matters

When the seriousness of care isn’t a consideration, patients also show a distinct preference for doctors with more experience. Given the choice between a doctor with a lower patient rating and more years of experience, and one with a higher patient rating but less experience, 61% of patients choose the more experienced provider. As experience matters even more than patient satisfaction ratings, hospital marketers may need to invest in building the practices of even their most talented young physicians.

The Human Touch

What factors drive patient choice of healthcare providers? It’s not location, modern facilities, or the latest technology. It comes down to the human touch, and professional experience that drives patient results.

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