By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer
My team and I talk about the pervasive influence of a digital presence and online reviews for hospitals and healthcare practitioners every day. It’s always great when new research backs up our claims. Press Ganey has been leading the industry in patient experience expertise for years, and their latest report adds significantly to the discussion.
For today’s podcast, I spoke with Chrissy Daniels, who is a partner at Press Ganey and leads their Medical Practice Transparency and Consumerism Solutions. The new report from Press Ganey is called “Consumerism: The Role of Patient Experience in Brand Management and Patient Acquisition” and you can download it here.
In our podcast, we dig deeper into the changing ways patients research doctors online. Listen to our podcast below and keep reading for some of the highlights of our talk.
Patients Look Online—Even With a Doctor Referral
Daniels says she was surprised to learn just how many people are searching for healthcare providers online.
“Three, four years ago when we looked at what other industry studies were telling us, we would see maybe 65% of patients would be researching doctors online. Particularly researching the patient reviews of others who had seen that doctor, and this most recent study showed that over 90% of Americans—this was the National Study of Medical Decision Makers—are now researching physicians online. In fact, they’re more likely to research their physician online than talk to their friends or family.”
So what are the reasons behind the shift?
1. Accessibility of Information
Once, patients had to rely on primary care physicians to learn how well other patients had done in a specialist’s care. Today, Daniels points out, that information is a lot more accessible for anyone who wants to know more.
“Particularly, patients are very interested in the experience of other patients,” she says. And that information is now available unlike ever before.
2. Patients Feel Empowered
Today, patients feel more empowered to find information relevant to their healthcare needs. Beyond that, patients are more confident in their own ability to discern which positive and negative online reviews are more relevant to their research.
What’s more, according to the white paper, patients no longer rely solely on their primary care doctor for referrals to specialists. At least 72% go online to review doctor websites and/or check out reviews prior to booking an appointment.
“We have become experts in advocating the wisdom of the crowds to find those data points and those value points that best meet our needs. So it’s not that we’re so confident in what other patients say in their reviews—we’re incredibly confident in our own ability to find the best match for what we’re looking for. It’s because we do it so routinely with almost every purchase that we make.”
3. High Value of Healthcare Decisions
I spend time researching smaller purchases like headphones and haircuts. Why wouldn’t I take the time to research something as expensive and risky as surgery?
Daniels recalled a conversation she had with a colleague who had a cancer diagnosis and had to decide where to seek care. “He told me that he said to his wife, I think that next to marrying you this is the most important decision I’m gonna make in my life. The level of outcomes and the level of anguish associated with this decision really does elevate it in the minds of consumers.”
4. The Need for a Healthcare Partner
Patients have shifted the ways they see their healthcare providers, says Daniels.
“At some point, we’re gonna have to rename the patients. Because they’re no longer interested in being patients while we treat them. They are looking for advisors and partners. And the good news is, that change in that relationship in no way diminishes the value they have for the expertise.”
5. Desire for Privacy and Community
Today, people are not limited to their family and friends to get information about providers. Family and friends may not have the answers they need anyway, and frankly, some health issues are personal matters. Online research helps patients to retain a sense of anonymity.
As Daniels says, “We might not wanna bring this up at the dinner table. So we can seek information without disclosing things that we’re trying to keep private.”
6. On-Demand Convenience
Besides, the convenience of on-demand information simply cannot be beat. Patients prefer the instant, on-demand access and convenience of online information and reviews over talking to a primary care physician.
Patients think, “I don’t have to make a phone call. I don’t have to wait until we see each other at coffee. I can get information from people who have the same condition I have, about the experience they had with the provider and it really brings comfort and confidence to choose.”
The Impact of Online Reviews
Daniels says we’re learning that patients take more time than ever to comb through reviews and look at them with a critical eye. In addition, she says, they seek out the negative comments first. However, prospective patients are less likely to believe a review if they don’t see a variety of feedback. “So they’re looking for the negative comments, but interestingly although they read them, they immediately go into a rubrics of evaluation.”
That rubric includes the following series of questions:
- What’s the worst experience anyone has had in this practice or hospital?
- How often does this happen? Is there a pattern? (If not, they tend to discount that feedback.)
- Can I tell anything else from this comment about the value system of this patient? Do they value the things I value?
In other words, if a negative review focused heavily on the interior of the practice building, and the reader does not put emphasis on interior design, they may discount that comment. From there, the prospective patient can go on to do further research.
Not a Ratings Game—A Compatibility Test
We touched on a few more points of online behavior, which you can hear in our podcast. But a major takeaway from our conversation is the reminder that providers shouldn’t think of patients as putting providers into a “ratings game.”
“What I’d encourage them to think of it more as is a compatibility test. This is where patients find doctors that they can love. It makes it easier to be a doctor because patients can pre-dispose to trust and have confidence in you.
But it also makes doctors more successful. It’s not the punitive judgemental cycle that so many people expect. It really is more of a love match.”