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Hospitals, Industry Trends & News

Hospital Patient Survey: How Do Patients Choose Their Doctors and Hospitals?

Brian Davis Executive Vice President of Healthcare

Effective online promotion of your hospital, its doctors, and its services, starts with the following questions:

  • What are your patients looking for in a healthcare provider?
  • What makes your patients choose one doctor over another?
  • What do patients want when they visit your website?

To find the answers to these and other questions, we surveyed 1,000 healthcare consumers in our 2018 Hospital Patient Survey.

Overall, we discovered that patients prefer a hospital website that...

  • Clearly shows what types of insurance are accepted

  • Offers an online patient portal

  • Is easy to navigate

  • Includes photos of working physicians

  • Features images of patients interacting with doctors

And when patients are looking for a doctor, they place the most value on...

  • Being in-network
  • Education and training
  • Strong communication skills
  • The delivery of compassionate care

On the subject of location, our survey found...

While more patients (58%) say they would choose the closer hospital, 42% say they would choose a hospital that’s farther away under the right circumstances (offers better care, is in-network, has a better reputation, etc.).

And nearly 70% of patients say they prefer to call their doctor’s offices, rather than sending an electronic communication.

Keep reading to see the rest of the survey results!

How patients use hospital websites

Q: What are the first items you would look for on a hospital's website?

The top three items were:

  1. Insurance accepted
  2. Services offered
  3. The physical location

Insurance providers (16.90%), Services they offer (14.62%), Their location(s) (14.34%), Contact information (address and business hours) (9.59%), Doctor bios (8.72%), Patient resources (information / forms) (8.57%), Physician directory (6.88%), Patient testimonials (6.09%), Frequently asked questions (5.50%), Patient stories (4.72%), Company values (2.40%), Classes & events calendar (1.69%)

Takeaway:

While patients want to know background information about your hospital and doctors, they want to know if your healthcare organization accepts their insurance first.

Make it easy for them to find the information they’re looking for—the insurance plans you accept, the healthcare services you offer, and where your hospital is located.

Q: What feature would be most important to you on a hospital’s website?

The top three features were:

  1. An online patient portal
  2. A search bar feature
  3. A physician directory

1: Online patient portal (access to medical records, prescription refills, online scheduling), 2: The ability to search the website to find what I'm looking for (search bar feature), 3: Physician directory, 4: Location finder, 5: Online video interviews of physicians, staff, patient stories, 6: Online bill pay, 7: A virtual tour of the facility

Takeaway:

Invest in a website that offers a full suite of tools patients can use to manage their healthcare needs—healthcare consumers have come to expect having easy access to the information they need.

Q: What frustrations have you experienced when navigating a hospital's website?

Patients said their biggest frustration was not being able to find what they were looking for on the website (more than 39%), followed by the hospital failing to provide a list of accepted insurance providers (more than 29%).

I couldn't find what I was looking for (hard to navigate) (39.30%), They didn't have insurance providers listed (29.60%), I didn't understand some of the terminology on the site (20.40%), The text wasn't big or clear enough for me to read (9.30%), Other (1.40%)

Takeaway:

Your website is a reflection of the care your hospital delivers. Create a frustrating experience and patients will think they’ll receive the same experience in-person. Give the patient a positive experience from the very beginning by making your website easy to navigate.

Q: How important is it to you to see your potential physician’s photo on the hospital's website? (1 = not important at all, 5 = extremely important)

A third of respondents (33%) said seeing their physician’s photo is extremely important, while more than a quarter (28%) said it was important. That’s more than 60% who assign some level of importance to physician photos. Another quarter of patients (24%) said they were neutral.

5 (32.80%), 4 (27.90%), 3 (23.80%), 2 (8.00%), 1 (7.50%)

Takeaway:

Physician photos give your hospital website a personalized touch, and they can help a patient feel “surer” about their doctor. If you were looking at a physician profile with no photo and another one with a smiling, friendly-looking doctor, which one would put you at ease?

Q: What type of imagery resonates with you on a hospital’s website?

More than 36% said they preferred images of doctors interacting with patients, and more than 30% said they wanted to see the physicians they would be visiting.

A: Doctor interacting with patient (36.20%), B: The physicians I'll be working with (30.30%), C: Doctors performing medical procedures (10.40%), D: Imagery of the facility (9.90%), E: Active healthy people (8.10%), F: Doctors consulting one another (5.10%)

Takeaway:

Patients want to be able to visualize the experience they will have when visiting your hospital, and that’s why images of doctors serving patients are so impactful. Think of where you can incorporate these types of images onto your website.

How patients look for doctors and hospitals

Q: When reviewing doctors, what is most important to you?

The top-rated factor was the doctor’s education and training, followed by their years of experience.

1: Their education and training, 2: Their years of experience, 3: Their areas of expertise, 4: Past patient reviews and ratings, 5: Their awards and recognition

Takeaway:

Above all else, patients want a doctor who is qualified and experienced. To make the doctor selection easier for patients, post physician profiles on your website that share your doctors’ education levels, training, years of experience, and more.

Q: What would set one physician apart from another?

Patients said the strongest differentiating factors were:

  1. The doctor’s communication skills
  2. The amount of comfort the patient feels with the physician
  3. The doctor’s education level

1: Their communication skills (explaining things in a way I could understand, 2: Amount of comfort you feel with the physician, 3: Education level, 4: Years in practice, 5: Speaks my native language, 6: Positive online reviews, 7: Awards and certifications

Takeaway:

High-quality healthcare is about more than diagnosing patients and prescribing treatments—it’s about how physicians interact with patients and address their needs during times of stress and uncertainty. Make sure your physicians are clearly communicating with their patients before, during, and after visits so they can improve overall patient experience.

Q: When reviewing hospitals, what would set one apart from the other?

Patients said the strongest differentiators were:

  • The availability of cutting-edge technology
  • Full laboratory and imaging technology on-site
  • The availability of alternative medicine and treatments

1: They have cutting-edge technology available, 2: Full laboratory and imaging technology (on-site testing), 3: They offer alternative medicine/treatment options, 4: They offer same-day appointments, 5: They have extended hours (open on weekends/evenings), 6: They are an award-winning facility, 7: They have a pharmacy on-site

Takeaway:

Patients are looking for quality and convenience.

So if your hospital has technology, services, or treatment options that allow you to deliver more comprehensive care, share this information in your marketing. It might be what leads a patient to choose your hospital over another provider.

Q: What would you research when looking for a physician?

The most common types of search terms were:

  1. Doctors or hospitals that accept their insurance
  2. The name of the treatment or surgery needed
  3. The type of physician they’re seeking

Doctor or hospitals that accept your insurance (33.80%), Name of the treatment or surgery you need (ex: double bypass heart surgery) (25.00%), Type of physician you are seeking (ex: gastroenterologist, cardiologist) (17.60%), Hospital near me (13.70%), Symptoms describing what you’re experiencing (ex: chest pain) (6.60%), Hospital ratings (3.00%), Other (.40%)

Takeaway:

Which search terms do people use when searching for healthcare services in your local area? Do some research and then incorporate those keywords into your search engine marketing. By optimizing your hospital website and ads with the right search terms, you can get your hospital found by prospective patients and drive more revenue to your organization.

Q: Which message would appeal to you most when researching a medical professional?

Patients said they prefer messaging that emphasizes:

  1. Compassionate care
  2. Professional care
  3. Cutting-edge technology

Compassionate: “We Treat You As a Person, Not Just a Patient. Here For You Every Step of the Way” (31.90%), Professional: “Providing World-Class Care and Expertise in Every Step of Your Treatment” (20.20%), Cutting-Edge Technology: “State-of-the-Art Technology and Specialized Care for Your Health” (13.30%), Value/Affordability (“We Make Quality Care Accessible—Most Insurances Accepted” (12.90%), Reputation: “We Have a Successful Track Record of Transitioning Patients to Better Health & Quality of Life” (12.30%), Award-Winning Quality: “Award-Winning Team Providing the Best Treatment for You” (9.40%)

Takeaway:

Don’t forget to show patients the human side of your healthcare organization. Through your messaging, show them that your hospital cares about their well-being and are their to guide them through their healthcare needs.

Q: When seeking options to undergo treatment or surgery, what questions would you have?

Patients wanted to know:

  1. The risks of the procedure or treatment
  2. How many times the doctor had performed the procedure in the past
  3. The hospital’s safety rating

1: What are the risks of my procedure/treatment?, 2: How many of the procedures has the doctor conducted?, 3: What is the hospital’s safety rating?, 4: What are the success rates of this treatment/surgery?, 5: What was the experience of past patients undergoing this procedure/ treatment like?, 6: Has the hospital won awards?

Takeaway:

Patients have plenty of questions when they’re researching their health. Be helpful by answering their questions and giving them a better understanding of how to move forward with care. When you do that, you not only put the patient first—you also establish your healthcare brand as a trusted authority.

Q: You’re looking to choose a hospital for you and your family. Does the hospital’s proximity to your location matter to you?

Fifty-eight percent (58%) of patients said they prefer a nearby hospital, but 42% said they’d be willing to drive a longer distance under the right circumstances (the hospital offers better care, is in-network, has a better reputation, etc.).

Yes, I’d choose the nearest hospital that took my insurance (28.90%), Yes, it’s very important, I’d choose a hospital close to home (28.80%), No, it’s not important, distance wouldn’t matter if the quality of care was better (18.80%), No, I’d choose a better hospital further away that took my insurance (13.20%), No, I’d choose a well-known hospital located further away (10.30%)

Takeaway:

Don’t assume local patients will come to your hospital just because you’re closer. Have a strong marketing plan that targets patients both near and far, and make it clear why your hospital is the best choice.

Q: When looking for a hospital or doctor, which device are you more likely to use?

Mobile phones are the most preferred device with more than half (54%) choosing this as their #1 device. The next most-popular devices were laptops, desktops, and tablets, in that order.

Phone (54.20%), Laptop (21.40%), Desktop computer (15.30%), Tablet (8.90%), Other (.20%)

Q: What types of obstacles/frustrations have you dealt with when visiting a hospital?

The top three obstacles or frustrations were:

  1. Doctors and staff who weren’t caring enough
  2. Difficulty finding their way around
  3. Poor communications from the doctors

The doctors/staff are not warm or caring enough (33.50%), It’s hard to find my way around (poor directions (20.60%), The doctors didn’t communicate with me well (didn’t talk to me in a way I could understand or made me feel comfortable) (19.90%), My co-pay/billing is not explained to me properly (12.70%), Not having proper follow up care explained to me (10.10%), Other (3.20%)

Takeaway:

Find areas within your organization where you can improve patient experience. Conduct patient surveys, read online reviews, and just listen to patients in face-to-face encounters to understand how you can better serve them. When you fail to deliver positive experiences, you run the risk of losing patients to other healthcare providers.

Q: How would you prefer to contact a physician's office?

The majority of patients (nearly 70%) prefer to contact a doctor’s office by phone. The next most-preferred forms of communication were email, text message, online chat form, and video conference, in that order.

Phone (69.40%), Email (10.10%), Text (8.30%), Online Contact Form (7.40%), Video Conference (4.80%)

Takeaway:

Make it easy for patients to call your hospital, regardless of how you’re marketing to them. Make it easy for them to find the right phone numbers, and run click-to-call digital ads that allow them to phone your facilities with the click of an icon from their smartphones.

If you want to learn how to improve your hospital’s digital marketing to attract more patients, talk to a member of our team.

About the Author
Brian Davis Executive Vice President of Healthcare

Brian Davis is the Executive Vice President of Healthcare of Healthcare at Scorpion. He leads our vision of bringing a new level of competitive advantage to healthcare providers online. Brian has been a speaker and panelist at various healthcare industry conferences and has been quoted in Becker’s Hospital Review. Most recently, he was a panelist at the Becker’s CIO and Health IT Summit. Brian is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sloan Business School Entrepreneurial Development Program (EDP) and received his undergraduate degree in Journalism from Louisiana State University. He currently resides in Dallas with his wife, two daughters, and three dogs. In his spare time, he likes to spend time with his family and to take long road trips.

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