Patients Change Doctors More Often Than Previously Thought, Surveys Reveal

Patients Change Doctors More Often Than Previously Thought, Surveys Reveal

Perhaps one fact that seems elusive to healthcare facilities and providers is that patients are more than people with illnesses. They are also consumers. As such, they can change doctors or hospitals when they believe it’s time to do so. And it turns out they do it often.

How Often Patients Change Doctors

In 2010, a survey conducted between patients and doctors revealed that the former switch providers more often than previously thought. On average, they would have seen at least 18 doctors in their lifetime. The rate also increased with age, so baby boomers are the most likely to deal with plenty of physicians.

Another research seemed to corroborate such results. In a report by Healthcare Finance, seniors change their doctors at a rate of 35% compared to other generations, and they do so in only two years.

Why do patients change doctors? Many factors influence their decision:

  • Expectations and Reality Can Differ Between Doctors and Patients

The Altarum Institute Center for Consumer Choice in Health Care once published a report that illustrated how expectations and reality can significantly vary between patients and their physicians.

For example, when they asked to infer the level of satisfaction patients experience with their doctors, 11% of both groups said they were dissatisfied with the relationship or service.

However, physicians overestimated when they claimed that 76% were happy with their guidance or advice. Only 39% of the surveyed patients agreed to that.

Meanwhile, doctors underestimated the effects of malpractice suits. Fewer than 50% of them said that it could be a cause to switch providers. But an overwhelming 74% of patients said these lawsuits mattered.

  • Patients Want Better Service

Patients are like the rest of consumers – they want value for their money. Considering that healthcare isn’t cheap, even if they’re using insurance, they expect at least decent customer service from the facility and the provider.

In the Altarum survey, 28% of patients cited better treatment as one of the primary reasons for leaving their physicians. About 30% wanted better service. Nearly 35% claimed that they wouldn’t mind changing a clinic or a doctor if the facility has rude staff.

In fact, their need for excellent service can trump over the possible costs of treatment or consultations. Only 13% considered the non-acceptance of insurance as a reason for switching doctors. On the other hand, fewer than 15% left a practice for one that’s less expensive.

Patients may also have no qualms leaving their doctors even if doing so will be against medical advice. In a 2007 study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, about 15% of those who left with a reason said they did it because they were dissatisfied with care.

What Do These Data Mean for Doctors?

The different types of research mentioned above revealed the following for healthcare facilities and their physicians:

  • Patients Change Doctors, and They Can Do It Immediately

At the end of the day, patients have the right to find the best care for themselves. However, regularly switching physicians, clinics, and hospitals can create problems later. One of these is the organization and maintenance of the patients’ records.

Healthcare centers, both big and small, can therefore benefit from technologies such as EMR systems. The most comprehensive ones can even record every encounter that physicians do with their countless patients.

With more accessible records, the healthcare industry can provide a more accurate diagnosis, treatment, and management for the patient. In turn, it may help reduce their level of dissatisfaction, enhance the doctor’s service, and decrease the likelihood of malpractice suits, which is one of the criteria patients consider in switching physicians.

  • Patients Want a Better Relationship with Their Doctors

How essential is a quality patient-doctor relationship? A 1999 research in the Journal of General Internal Medicine called this connection the cornerstone of care.

Inside a consultation, testing, or treatment room, patients reveal some of their deepest, darkest secrets and fears they would never share with their friends and family. When they’re on a surgery table, they’re at the mercy of the specialized skill and expertise of the doctors and the team, which he commands.

Meanwhile, a strong patient-doctor relationship increases the trust and confidence the patient will have in their physicians. Patients, therefore, are less likely to constantly switch doctors and receive prompt care for their complaints.

Economic-wise, patient loyalty can translate to consistent income and business growth. As consumers, patients can provide credible positive reviews, drawing more referrals.

Switching doctors often can be detrimental in the long-term as that can delay treatments or exhaust the patients that they avoid seeing a doctor altogether. However, healthcare facilities can do something to minimize these occurrences.

Jacques Bedard