Digital tools and web presence play key roles when patients select a provider, Doctor.com said in a new healthcare customer experience study. In fact, two-thirds of patients said they will choose a provider because of a strong online presence.
The survey found that most respondents (63%) will select a provider over another based on online presence, including 67% of people more than 60 years old.
The report found that patients aren’t using the internet just to find doctors. About 45% of patients said they prefer digital ways to request an appointment.
The findings echo recent reports about the growing importance of online reviews and the need for providers to keep track of their web presence and reputation. Doctors are trying tactics like same-day appointment scheduling to appeal to patients' need for flexibility and convenience.
Online tools have become the go-to spot for many patients looking for a doctor and navigating the healthcare system. The survey of 1,700 adults found that roughly 80% of respondents said they had conducted a health-related online search in the past year.
Patients said they read online provider reviews even after being referred to a physician, and 60% said they wouldn’t book an appointment with a provider that has poor quality reviews.
"The fact that 81% of patients will read reviews about a provider, even after they've been referred, indicates that we've entered a truly consumerist era of healthcare," Andrei Zimiles, CEO of Doctor.com, said in a statement. "Patients depend on online sources of information moreso than ever and are using all of the digital tools available to inform themselves and make healthcare decisions."
Patient reviews often don’t even relate to medical services, but instead focus on wait times or billing issues. More than 80% of respondents said customer service was the most important factor “influencing their loyalty to a provider” besides quality care. "While it is paramount for healthcare organizations to provide quality care, they must also focus on building a strong online presence and a seamless customer journey. It's what today's patients expect," Zimiles said.
That’s similar to a recent Healthgrades/MGMA analysis finding a provider’s interaction with patients is as important to online reviews as medical experience. Many online reviews are negative — even for top facilities. A report by Vanguard Communications and Healthcare Process Improvement reviewed 2,700 ratings of well-regarded hospitals on Yelp.com. They found that two-thirds of those ratings were mediocre to poor.
Understanding the growing importance that online reviews play on their practices, providers are increasingly fighting back and even using the legal system to combat negative reviews.