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    MGMA Staff Members
    Just like everything else in the healthcare industry and our pandemic-altered world, consumer behavior is changing.

    Aaron Clifford, senior vice president of marketing, Binary Fountain, and Stewart Gandolf, chief executive officer, Healthcare Success, recently outlined findings of new research into precisely what those changes are.

    Underneath all the findings, Gandolf said, is the increased sense of patient consumerism. “It used to be that patients were very subservient” in following the advice of a doctor, Gandolf noted. “Now patients are saying, ‘I’m the decision-maker here.’”

    How patients search for doctors

    Nothing beats the word-of-mouth recommendation of a friend or family member, Clifford said, but that is becoming less vital as the use of provider/hospital websites and insurance websites has gained traction among the public — especially when those sites help confirm which physicians are in network for a health plan.

    Online search engines, rating/review sites and social media are also popular, but Clifford and Gandolf noted that voice search (e.g., Siri and Alexa) has steadily increased in helping patients find providers, especially in primary care in which patients may just ask for “doctor near me.”

    “Those kinds of searches do add up, and all of it is important,” Gandolf said, underscoring that healthcare providers need to be ready to be found in an omnipresent way. “You have to be everywhere.”

    The role of reviews in choosing a doctor

    Clifford said that consumers read an average of nine reviews before choosing a doctor, which speaks to the need to cultivate dozens of reviews to have a “healthy” mix available for the public to see.

    As much as physicians may bristle at the prospective of a less-than-flattering review, Gandolf said that patients appreciate being able to read reviews and that Google’s emphasis on displaying them has made them very prominent. “This is not going away,” Gandolf said. “It’s increasing.”

    However, online reviews and ratings are only the fifth most-important factor for patients in choosing a doctor, Clifford said. A Binary Foundation survey points to insurance coverage (56%), location (49%), family/friend recommendations (40%) and hospital affiliation (36%) as more important to patients.

    Despite the increase in telehealth offerings in 2020, Clifford pointed to the convenience of a nearby office contributing heavily to consumers’ decision-making. “We don’t want to go somewhere that’s out of the way,” Clifford added.

    Patient engagement channels and frustrations

    Phone calls remain a reliable way to reach out to patients, as it’s the highest-ranked (55%) method preferred by consumers in Binary Fountain’s survey, but various forms of digital communication were not far behind:
    • Email (47%)
    • Text message (29%)
    • Facility website (27%)
    • Social media (23%).
    “Text is awesome for appointments,” Gandolf noted. “It’s immediate. … It’s also intrusive, so you want to use text carefully but clearly.” Gandolf also noted that while diminishing in use, direct mail sometimes has advantages of not getting lost in a consumer’s busy email inbox or phone records.

    However, generational preferences still show up in survey data. Gandolf pointed to phone calls as the preferred method for older patients to book appointments, but most younger generations are more insistent on some type of digital method, such as booking online via a website, as well as self-booking appointments in non-business hours, as many working adults may not think about booking appointments during the day.

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