Why Do Patients Select a Doctor?

Picking a Doctor

Why do patients select a doctor and what can you do to maximize your possibility of being selected?

Some obvious ones include being referred by:
-primary care provider (PCP),
-hospital, emergency room, or urgent care center,
and
-insurance company.

Strategies here are pretty straightforward. Be nice to PCPs, send them reports after you see their patients, and remove any barriers (like insurance/networks) to make it easy for them to refer. Be nice and answer the calls of Hospitalists, ER Docs, and local urgent care docs. Ensure they have all of the correct information to refer to your practice (fax, address, insurances, what all you treat). On insurance companies, being in-network is key and check their online listings regularly to be sure your information is up to date. If it’s not, go through their credentialing department to get it updated.

Next set is pretty intuitive too. Patients pick a doctor because:
-their office is close to home, school, or work,
-availability or ease of scheduling,
-specific skills and specialties of the physician
,
and
-cost and financing options.
To maximize location, be sure that patients can clearly find all your locations on your website and allow them to visit the office that is most convenient to them. Be sure they know they can come to any office any time. Maybe one is close to home and one is close to work? And, consider offering telemedicine visits for established patients. Ease of scheduling appointments is important too. If all things are equal, patients will pick the doctor that can get them in first. Online scheduling is ideal, but if that’s not possible, at least allow appointment requests online. Think about offering 7:30 am or late afternoon appointments to catch professionals that have trouble getting off work (like teachers). Then, the cost. Patients really don’t know how much services cost before they come in, but the practice sure can ease fears and manage expectations upfront. Clear pricing is a great way to be selected over your competitor.

How about outside affiliations and their websites? Patients may consider:
-hospital affiliation or listing on a hospital website,
-vendor websites,

and
-society websites.
Some patients have a hospital they like and they pick doctors that go there or are affiliated with the facility. Seeing you listed on a hospital website seems like an unofficial endorsement and patients like that…as long as they like the hospital. Vendor websites can be particularly useful when you are listed on their “Find a Physician” section. They often spend big bucks on search engine optimization, so patients may find them before they find you. This is particularly useful for self-referable procedures. Examples include Medtronic’s VenaSeal™ or ClosureFast™ Find-A-Doctor listing and NovaSure’s Physician Locator for endometrial ablation. If you buy equipment or materials from reps, ask if they have these available. Additionally, most professional societies offer an online physician directory. Be sure your listing is up to date because being on these sites offers credibility in the patient’s eyes.

Spoiler alert: Being nice to people and updating online profiles will set you up for success on this set of reasons…and generally make your life better and easier. Patients often select a physician based on:
-the reputation of the physician for bedside manner, personality, & empathy,
-family, friend, or colleague recommendation,
-reviews on a medical site,

and
-consumer reviews on a non-medical site.
Reputation is pretty self-explanatory. Be nice to people. Even though it’s your 30th patient of the day and your 30,678th time to diagnose x, it’s the first time for the patient and they need to feel like you care. This plays well into the next three reasons people select a doctor. Personal recommendations from a family member, friend, or colleague weigh heavily when that information is available. It’s tangible and lets the patient feel like they have some control in their care. Review sites have grown exponentially for this reason. Reviews are their own article (or many articles), but here’s the short version. Claim and update your medical profiles on sites like Healthgrades, Vitals, and WebMD. Keep your information updated with the state medical board and CMS because many pull from those. Then, claim and update your profiles on Facebook, Google, and Yelp. Think you aren’t on those? You are. Read the reviews and respond to them in a professional, kind, HIPAA compliant manner.

Finally, patients do select doctors based on more traditional advertising methods like:
-a snazzy website, online advertising, magazine ad, or other paid media,
-a press release or media interview,

and
-best doctors lists.
A lot of patients will take a PCP recommendation and then go to Google to decide if they really want to use that doctor. A cohesive and engaging online presence definitely makes patients think you might be a good doctor. While it shouldn’t matter, a crummy website or no website will turn them off. And, finding complimentary print media reinforces what they’ve found online. Press releases and media interviews have a similar positive effect on the patient’s opinion of a potential physician, assuming the news is positive. And, then best doctors lists really do make patients think that doctor is the best. Getting on those lists is a huge strategy in itself. Check out this article to be sure you are on the right track.

How do you measure up on these? Would you pick your practice? If you aren’t sure, ask an unbiased person to go through these and let you know what they find and what conclusion they come to. Pick one strategy per week, per month, or per quarter and put your practice on top. Then, track where your patients come from and tweak your strategies based on that data.