Insights on Consumerism: How Consumerism Enhances Physician Engagement

Added on Mar 21, 2019

Insights on Consumerism: How Consumerism Enhances Physician Engagement
By Chrissy Daniels

Health care consumerism has become a reality, and physician practices are realizing some unexpected benefits.

Many health care leaders thought that when patient-consumers began shopping for their care there would be a race to the bottom, with the lowest price dominating market choice. Consumer behavior is proving them wrong. What we have seen to date is that consumers are not choosing providers by price, they are choosing by value. They are looking to maximize both quality and experience for the best possible price, and they are relying on the experiences of other patients to inform their decisions.

In a recent study of health care consumer behavior, most patient-consumers reported looking for physician ratings and reviews when seeking out a new provider. The high percentage of patients who look to these data to inform their provider choice causes some angst among physicians who feel it raises an expectation of perfection. But I have good news. Consumers aren’t necessarily looking for perfection. In fact, if they see a provider with all positive ratings, they believe that the reviews may have somehow been edited. What consumers really want to understand is what the care experience will be like. Being mindful of this actually makes the physician’s job easier.

Following are some points to note about how consumers use physician reviews.

  • It's a compatibility test. Many providers mistakenly assume that the patient-consumer will look at a star rating but immediately gloss over the details. Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is that most patients like their doctors, which means that star ratings tend to fall between 3.5 and 4.5 stars. Given this relative consistency across providers, consumers immediately go to the next question: How many patients contributed to this rating? Once that’s noted, they look immediately to the comments, trying to glean information about the individuals who contributed to the ratings. Why did they rate the way they did? What are their values? Are they like me? Search engines allow systems to actually monitor the time on page, and for physician profiles that have patient ratings, time on page is often six minutes or more. The consumer is reading everything in order to get a clear idea of whether this doctor is “the best doctor for me.”

  • It aligns expectations. Today’s consumers are not swayed by advertising. They understand the job of advertising is to promote every service, product, or person as “the best.” Sometimes that promise delivers, but often it doesn’t. Consumers are much more interested in reality. They are seeking out information that will tell them “what it’s really like.” The candor of personal stories allows the true value of the experience to come through. Consumers don’t weigh all qualities equally, and they are willing to trade excellence in one area for inconsistencies in another. Interestingly, actually knowing what will be a potential problem in a service in advance, and selecting the service anyway, makes consumers more tolerant of the issue if it occurs. For example, if I know in advance that a physician has delays in clinic, but I choose this provider based on other strengths, I know what I’m getting into and any negative impact is dramatically reduced. 

  • It allows the physician to speak directly to consumers. In the past, health care marketers controlled the consumer message, and branding campaigns were prevalent. Because of the expense of media buys, these messages had to appeal to the largest number of consumers possible, and they were general as a result. Only the privileged few physicians were promoted individually, and often that was limited to a mailer or a service-level billboard promoting excellence in a particular area, like heart care, cancer, or orthopedic surgery. 

    Today consumers want to hear directly from physicians. In this regard, I encourage physicians to add the following three areas of content to their Web profiles.
    1. Tell me why I should have confidence in you. If physicians don’t know where to start with this, they should think about how they introduce themselves during a new-patient visit. Consumers are interested in physicians’ commitment to patients, their skills, experience, research interests, and use of holistic or alternative medicine.
    2. Tell me why I should have confidence in your team. Consumers are focused on safety and quality. They know that many of the gaps in experience happen in handoffs between team members. They perceive that the tighter the teamwork is, the more likely it is that the care will be safe and reliable. Physicians should tell patients about their team and how they work with nurses, physical therapists, pharmacy, residents, and trainees.
    3. Tell me why I should have confidence in your processes. Physicians should let patients know about systems that have been put in place and what to expect. I’m going to start with a hot issue: pain management stewardship. Increasingly, physicians are on the front lines of controlling opioids. Often, those who want pain medication and don’t get it are quite vocal, and there are many more consumers who share concerns about opioid dependency. I encourage every physician to put their pain management philosophy on their Web page. It is a powerful tool to align expectations and reduce confrontation. This is also true with antibiotic stewardship. 

Ultimately, choice creates confidence. Market research has uncovered an interesting phenomenon. Simply engaging the consumer in the act of researching and choosing their care provider increases patient confidence. Activating consumers through the information provided by physicians and combining the experience of other patients makes consumers feel empowered, so they come to the visit with even higher levels of assurance in their provider choice.

Physician practices can take advantage of this phenomenon by understanding the kind of information consumers are looking for, where they’re looking for it, and how best to deliver it to them.