Medical consumers (patients) are making more empowered choices than ever before. As surgery becomes a more transparent industry, patients are largely looking for certain traits in their surgeons and support staff.
Which Patients “Shop Around” for a Surgeon?
Research shows that patients who are most likely to search for a physician are racial and ethnic minorities and those who experienced dissatisfaction with a physician in the last 5 years. Patients less likely to have consumer activism are those with poor health status, frequent levels of service—many doctor visits, hospital stays or surgeries, or strong ties to individual physicians. The elderly, women, and upper-income patients are more likely to use personal doctors as information sources, and those who have bad experiences are almost three times as likely to find other objective forms of medical information before choosing a surgeon.
Word-of-Mouth is Most Compelling
Patients are still most likely to rely on word-of-mouth and personal connection. One-third of this Medscape article’s survey respondents also used physician comparison services, including Yelp, Healthgrades.com, the website of that patient’s healthcare system, hospital or group practice website, among others. To compare, 10% of all survey respondents (2,500 people) view recommendations from friends and family as most important.
What Do Patients Look For?
1) Insurance coverage
The first question patients almost always ask is: is this doctor in-within network and will the surgery be covered by my insurance? This will come as no shock, but it does pay to make sure your practice’s contact information, address, and website are up-to-date on the insurance company lists. Patients will often contact the insurance company online for a list of surgeons in their city, or the closest large city to their residence. They’ll then use that list to compare those names with the names of personal recommendations or referrals from their general practitioner. This is true even of cosmetic procedures, which are often not covered by insurance.
2) Bedside manner
The patient’s first experience needs to be respectful, knowledgeable, and informative. They may not be recovering from surgery—yet—but your practice’s patients will be looking forward to what they can see down the line in patient care, and it needs to be a positive experience for them to consider working with you. Treat patients like individuals, ask them about their experiences, and view their medical cases independently. Be informative. Patients will ask questions, expecting upfront, honest answers from a surgeon who is willing to sit with them for an extra few minutes to ensure they understand everything. They’ll look at doctor’s interactions with their family members and take those opinions and experiences into account as well. Use pre-surgery meetings to address any concerns about the surgery and recovery and walk your patients through the procedure.
3) Surgeon’s credentials and performance history
Educated consumers know that every physician is required to be licensed by their state’s medical board, and can research past disciplinary actions for surgeons who have issues within their practices. Make sure your practice’s state-record is squeaky clean and up to date—including specialties. They may ask surgeons how many times this doctor has performed a particular procedure, and want to know the success rate numbers, as well as (if there are) any fatalities or major complications. It can pay to explain to patients that higher complication rates are not necessarily a bad reflection on the surgeon —they may indicate higher risk patients overall, or more complicated surgeries.
4) Clear breakdown of fees
Today’s patients want to understand what their insurance (or their bank accounts, for that matter) will be paying for the procedure. The price of the surgery itself, including operating costs, anesthesia, MRIs, and DME, should be clearly laid out to the patients who ask. Cost can be a significant factor, especially if the patient is paying out-of-pocket. Don’t be shocked if you’re asked if there are any conflicts of interest in terms of your practice receiving money from medical device or pharmaceutical companies. Some doctors do have conflicts based on medical devices they have invented, promoted, or received promotional materials with monetary value, which may cause concern for some patients, but is reassuring to others. After all, the experts most familiar with their medical device or medication could be performing the surgery.
5) Convenient Location
Not every patient can travel cross country (or even outside of their local city) for the best medical care. Don’t assume that a huge distance precludes patients from choosing your practice, but not everyone will be coming by car or from miles away. Many patients are still choosing local hospitals and medical practices because of reduced time away from work, access by public transportation, and proximity to home and family. Convenience is not the number one factor, and many patients will choose a further hospital if they think the care they’ll receive is better, but only to a point. Also factor in the ease of parking access, particularly for the elderly.
Upholding The Surgeon Patients Choose
Researchers have found that surgeons’ professional behavior contributes to stronger performance, so it’s not only about how patients feel—it means better care. Patients seek more personalized care, starting with better bedside manner, patient portals, and easy-to-read pricing plans.
For practice manager, the key takeaway here is to ensure your practice and surgeons are actively doing things to fulfill the items mentioned above. This can include:
- Ensuring your practice’s name and contact information are on local insurance lists and check your reviews are positive and up-to-date online. This may mean encouraging current or past patients to write positive reviews online, and to share experiences with friends and family.
- Talk to your surgeons about their pre- and post-surgery check-ins with patients. Ask them to self-evaluate patients perceived comfort level, and analyze what could be improved to keep the patient happy.
- Producing a simple pamphlet with fee breakdowns and insurances accepted can go a long way towards transparency and ease-of-use for new patients.
- Sharing a map of your office’s proximity to local hospitals, with bus and driving routes marked, can make the logistics simpler for those concerned about travel time and distance.
- Display doctor’s degrees, awards, and licensure paperwork on the walls of your entrance/lobby, giving credibility to your top-notch doctors and the practice overall.
Surgical practices should take note of these important key decision factors that patients and their families use to find a surgeon they’re comfortable with and take the steps necessary to maintain the level of professionalism and reputability patients are seeking.