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How to Be a Better Doctor: What Patients Look for When Choosing a Physician

While rarely discussed, the anything-but-simple act of choosing a doctor is an important decision. A patient wants to know the provider is reputable and skilled, while also filling the requirements set by personal needs and insurance limitations.

To get a better understanding of what patients look for in selecting a new physician, or in changing doctors, we conducted a survey of nearly 500 everyday healthcare consumers. The goal was to discover what matters most to them and to get a glimpse in how they educate themselves for making their choice.

To view the full report here, or read further to see a few key findings.

Patient satisfaction.

The study found that 75 percent of patients are satisfied with their primary care physicians, noting in particular that the characteristics of professionalism, knowledge, and empathy are crucial to satisfaction.

  • Satisfaction increases with age: Eighty-two percent of patients over 55 were satisfied with their physician while 67 percent of 18 to 34 year olds felt the same.

  • Long wait times: Though patients are generally satisfied with their care, they feel like they spend too much time waiting for it, the bulk of which is occurring in the exam room (29 percent).

Why patients choose a doctor.

  • Cost and convenience: It’s no surprise, location and convenience ranked high among respondents, with 70 percent reporting that a facility that’s easy to get to was either critical or very important. Fifty-one percent also labeled in-network care as critical.

    • It should be noted that only 9 percent of respondents listed good online reviews as one of their top factors in selecting a physician.

  • Age and gender: Apart from a physician’s age, a majority of patients are not concerned with the demographic profile of their physician (i.e., race, languages spoken, and religious affiliation). One exception is gender. Twenty-three percent of women strongly preferred having a doctor of their same gender, compared to just 9 percent of men.

Why patients switch doctors.

Though nearly half of patients (49 percent) stay with their doctor for five years or more, often due to comfort and familiarity, patients are sometimes compelled to switch providers.

  • Attitude matters: In fact, attitude and positivity are a much bigger draw, prompting 25 percent of respondents to say they would be likely (“very” or “extremely”) to change if they found a physician who had a better attitude.

  • Competence beats empathy: Patients also rate physician’s knowledge and abilities above all other factors (84 percent said competence was “extremely” or “very” influential), followed by accompanying staff competence.

  • Facility quality: While they agree on the importance of staff competence, female patients are significantly more likely (78 percent) than males to be influenced by the facility accessibility and quality, including good design, cleanliness, and comfort of the facility in which their physician practices.

  • More communication: While some studies show physicians want more time to communicate with patients, 67 percent of respondents indicated they are satisfied with the level of communication. A minority of both patients and physicians would like more communication via text message (26 and 19 percent, respectively).

Patient education level.

The survey also sought to determine how educated patients are, especially in terms of researching doctors and understanding their own medical history. The findings indicate that many patients actively spend time online educating themselves and others.

  • Researching online: When researching physicians, patients most often visit WebMD (55 percent) followed by Google reviews (40 percent). Sites dedicated to physician reviews, such as Zocdoc.com, are less popular (3 percent).

  • Online reviews: Despite nearly every patient indicating that they read physician reviews online, less than one-fifth (19 percent) has actually taken the time to write a review. Additionally, they are more likely to post a review in cases where the doctor went above and beyond (positive) or where they were disrespected or uncared for (negative).

  • Second opinions: When is the last time you had a professional photo taken, either in a lab coat or business attire? If you were still in residency, it’s time for a new one. Along with a current photo of yourself, make sure your biography has been updated and that your website and social media channels reflect your practice and are as professional as possible.

  • Family medical histories: Despite all the time spent researching, our finding suggests fewer than half of patients (43 percent) report familiarity with their family medical histories.

Our patient profile.

Our study suggests that patients are focused on insurance, cost, and convenience when selecting a physician and healthcare facility. Factors surrounding a doctor’s attitude, competency, and experience, and facility aesthetic are important but secondary to cost factors. Overall, many physicians are satisfied with their doctors and stay with them for years.

Patients are leveraging the Internet to research their doctors. Though today’s patients use online research, they still rely heavily on the close, human-to-human relationship they’ve cultivated with their physicians.


©2017 Hanover Research and Weatherby Healthcare

Patients and Providers


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