Patients still choose docs based on word of mouth

Patients still choose where they receive care based on good old word of mouth and referrals from their doctors, despite numerous Web sites and initiatives aimed at giving them information to compare the cost and quality of doctors and hospitals.

That’s the finding of a new national study released today by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC) and funded by the California HealthCare Foundation.

The key findings were:

  • In 2007, only 11 percent of American adults looked for a new primary care physician. In doing so, half relied on recommendations from friends and relatives, 38 percent relied on physician recommendations, and another 35 percent used health plan information.
  • When choosing specialists, nearly all consumers relied exclusively on physician referrals.
  • Use of online provider information ranged from 3 percent for consumers undergoing procedures to 7 percent for consumers choosing new specialists to 11 percent for consumers choosing new primary care physicians.
  • Very few of the 35 million adults who underwent a medical procedure used information other than the doctor’s referral in deciding where to seek care.

The bottom line: All the hoopla about consumer shopping and seeking out the bargains and best value for themselves, may be just that – hoopla.

How do all the Health 2.0 platforms launching into this area plan to change this ingrained consumer behavior?

3 replies »

  1. We’re talking about changing a mindset shaped over decades. This is definitely going to take some time. The transparency of cost and quality is still relatively new, and it’s definitely not pervasive. Consumers will need to trust what they’re seeing online, like they trust their family. We have a long way to go to make that happen.
    One other very important point: Patient perception of quality is often a stronger factor than the clinical quality itself. Food for thought…

  2. Are the websites and initiatives capturing the same kind of qualitative information that can be gained from speaking to a family member or friend? That is not even taking into account the fact that those individuals are likely to be trusted a great deal more than a faceless website.
    I am all for the information being available but I would be surprised if it changed behaviour at this time.
    By the way, I am a GP in the UK.

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