When choosing a doctor, Americans still look to advice from friends and family

July 25, 2014

New survey finds disconnect in ways patients, experts evaluate quality in healthcare

Despite the proliferation of physician ratings websites in recent years, more Americans still rely on information from friends and family members when choosing a doctor, according to a new survey.

The study looking at how Americans evaluate the quality of their healthcare providers, found that among the relatively few (23%) of Americans who have seen or heard information comparing healthcare providers’ quality in the past year, two-thirds got it from friends or family. That compares to about 40% who used a website such as Yelp.com or HealthGrades.com. About half cited a newspaper or magazine, or another doctor, as the source of their information.

The study found a “disconnect” between how healthcare experts and patients define quality in a healthcare provider. While the federal government, health insurance companies, and employers have focused on collecting and publicizing quality data, patients focus on aspects of the doctor-patient relationship and the provider’s personality.

For example, when asked to name the most important feature that defines a high-quality doctor, 59% of respondents cited attributes such as “attentive,” “caring,” “time with patients,” and “has a good bedside manner.” In contrast, 29% mentioned qualities such as “accurate diagnosis/competence” and where the physician was trained.

Moreover, of the 23% who said they have seen or heard comparative quality information, only half of those used the information when selecting a provider-meaning about 11% of Americans both see and actually make use of provider quality information. This is despite the fact that 80% of survey respondents age 18-64, and slightly fewer over age 65, think that requiring doctors to disclose the effectiveness of the treatments or procedures they provide would improve the quality of care they provide.

            Other findings from the survey:

  • 48% of Americans said it is either “very easy” or “moderately easy” to find trustworthy information about the quality of care provided by local doctors

  • 47% of respondents said they are “extremely confident” they could find information to help in selecting a specialist

  • 38% said is difficult to find information about a provider’s costs

 

The study, “Finding Quality Doctors: How Americans Evaluate Provider Quality in the United States,” was conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.