Each year consumers make a variety of decisions relating to their healthcare. Some experts argue that stronger consumer engagement in decisions about where to obtain medical care is an important mechanism for improving efficiency in healthcare delivery and financing. Consumers' ability and motivation to become more active decision makers are affected by several factors, including financial incentives and access to information. This study investigates the set of factors that consumers consider when selecting a provider, including attributes of the provider and the care experience and the reputation of the provider. Additionally, the study evaluates consumers' awareness and use of formal sources of provider selection information.
Our results from analyzing data from a survey of 467 patients at four clinics in Minnesota suggest that the factors considered of greatest importance include reputation of the physician and reputation of the healthcare organization. Contractual and logistical factors also play a role, with respondents highlighting the importance of seeing a provider affiliated with their health plan and appointment availability. Few respondents indicated that advertisements or formal sources of quality information affected their decision making.
The key implication for provider organizations is to carefully manage referral sources to ensure that they consistently meet the needs of referrers. Excellent service to existing patients and to the network of referring physicians yields patient and referrer satisfaction that is critical to attracting new patients. Finally, organizations more generally may want to explore the capabilities of new media and social networking sites for building reputation.