When Searching for a Physician, What's Important?

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When we need a physician or a specialist we increasingly turn to our family, friends, and the Internet. And cost and convenience, not competence, are the most important factors.

What do patients look for in searching for a physician?

That is an important question for both patient and physician, a new report by Kyruus, a company specializing in “provider search and scheduling options,” provides some insight. Their report is based on a survey of 1000 individuals evenly split among commercial insurance, Medicare and Medicaid, and broken into three age groups – millennials, Gen-Xers, and of course, Boomers.

Consumers do independent research for providers [1]

  • In searching for a primary care physician (PCP), a third do their own research, with almost equal numbers relying on insurance companies or their families and friends
  • In searching for a specialist, the recommendation of the PCP is used 40% of the time, although nearly all “fact check” those recommendations themselves. Insurance companies, family, and friends represented about a quarter of the recommendations.
  • Overall, 51% used the Internet in their search.
  • While many begin with a general search, increasingly, they look to “branded” sites – another phrase for health systems and hospitals. And those sites have taken notice and tried to grease the path from click to an appointment.

The credibility of the referral is the real driver here, with reliance on humans, like physicians, family, and friends still more important than other sources. And you have a sense of your local health system's credibility, making it a more reputable source than an insurance company. 

What do consumers want?

  • Coming in at number 3, the communication skills of the practitioner as evidenced by word of mouth or online reviews.
  • Coming in at number 2, the clinical expertise of the practitioner, again evidence by word of mouth and online reviews.
  • And number one, besting number two by 17%, do they accept your insurance. 
  • Health systems affiliations were also deemed important in characterizing the team supporting your provider.
  • Of course, the convenience of appointments in terms of travel and time were also in the mix. Interestingly, those items were most important to millennials, least important to Boomers.

It remains disheartening but understandable, that cost is the most significant factor in selecting a physician. As to the issue of convenience, I get it, but I would be interested in how much convenience of travel and time matters when it is a “real” medical problem. For example, there are a lot of people traveling into New York City from around the Tri-State area when they need heart surgery or cancer care. The same survey showed that the use of urgent care centers or the latest entry, retail centers [2] was driven by convenience in location and hours, shorter wait times, no need for an appointment.

Finally, there is a widening technologic divide. While most consumers (55%) preferred to make appointments over the phone for those same reasons of convenience and speed, a growing number, especially the millennials and Gen-Xers are making their appointments online.

The logistics of patient referrals is changing, and a medical practice without a web presence is old-school. A consequence of this is that many of the small private practices are faced with a new cost and increasingly see the umbrella of hospital acquisition as a means to continue working; after all, health systems have the resources to create a web presence with a trivial per-patient cost.  

[1] If you are a consumer, you need a provider, patients still need physicians.

 

Source: 2019 Patient Access Journey Report Kyruus