The Healthcare Marketplace: What do Patients Think about When Choosing a Doctor?

The Healthcare Marketplace: What do Patients Think about When Choosing a Doctor?

The interesting thing about the medical industry, in general, was that it did not originate as a good or service. Doctors, and medical practitioners, for the longest time in human history, were caregivers. Caregivers who know it was their ethical and spiritual obligation to take care of patients who are in need of help.

These days, however, with the added complication of insurance companies, and cost has changed how everyone looks at medical care.

Patients are learning to shop around. They are making choices regarding how they receive their medical care and emergency services.

So, with this change in mindset for the patients, how do doctors learn to navigate it?  What sort of healthcare marketing is most effective in winning patients over? Can doctors, who don’t really think about competing in a marketplace learn to figure out what patients want from them?

Thankfully, there are several studies and panels, that can give us a window into how most patients prioritize when choosing their healthcare services.

Quality Matters, Right?

When gathering data, usually panels or studies will get the information from a data pool of a sample size. It comes from the basic idea that the best way to get data ethically is to directly ask people.

And if you were to ask them, they would most likely tell you what they believe to be true in their perception at the time.

In the case of a 2005 Gallup, the people who self-reported stated that the driving factor for them choosing a hospital were “the hospital’s history of medical error or the type of specialists or expertise that a hospital for a specific illness.”

How to Judge Quality?

But there is something that is missing about the information.  For starters, where do they do their research? According to the people who conducted the Gallup themselves,” The tricky part is getting healthcare consumers with enough reliable information to make such assessments. When focus group participants are asked how healthcare quality is judged, the room tends to get silent. “

Interestingly enough, the perception of quality is not the same definition from patient to patient. For example, someone who is more analytically minded will look for objective data to analyze. What happens with someone who relies on their social ties? Or someone who has no idea what outside medical care looks like? There is where the problem lies.  How can they judge quality if they all use different barometers?

When words fall short, that is when actions will help guide us.

Actions Speak Louder than Words

While people self-report one thing, sometimes, their behavior does not match up with what they say is important to them. Not because people are trying to be deceitful or hypocritical. Usually, it is a case of subconscious practices not catching up with their idealism.

Behavior is a better indicator of what to expect from patients. This is because it is often what overrules our better judgment, and gives us a more direct understanding of what patients actually do.

For example, in the 2014 Healthgrades American Hospital Report to the Nation, a compilation of 3 years worth of statistical data from medicare patients. According to that information, “Fewer than half of Americans over age 26 gather extensive and detailed information before selecting a physician or hospital.”

If that is the case, then what really are the driving factors behind patients choosing doctors and hospitals?

Location, Copay, and Friendly Staff

For starters, the biggest driving factor, when choosing a hospital or a doctor, lies in location. According to that behavioral data that I mentioned earlier, 62% of people who are choosing a doctor, and 58% of people who choose a hospital all rely on location. After, all when most people only visit hospitals for emergencies or the moment they feel sick, there is a good chance that people aren’t going to shop around.

But what about when they do have a choice to find a doctor or a specialist? If it isn’t an emergency situation, what actually determines their decision to choose a doctor or hospital?

In the case of doctors, it depends entirely on the friendliness of the staff. Again, it makes sense for a marketing perspective because patients in a doctor’s office rarely spend time with the doctor at all. They spend time with nurses, receptionists, and the rest of the staff more than they do the doctor. 

The driving decision behind the choice of hospitals however, relies entirely on copay. If they are able to afford healthcare, patients are more likely to visit a hospital, in spite of its rating. Which again, plays into the common economic anxieties of lower and middle-class American citizens. 

Location, copay cost, and staff interactions are the driving factors that get patients to keep coming back. Use that knowledge to your advantage and find any possible weak spots in your healthcare marketing. 

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