A Shocking Truth: Most Patients Don’t Know Squat About Doctor Quality

It is a remarkable and often painful mistake for doctors to assume that prospective patients know how to judge clinical quality in healthcare. Specifically, many doctors mistakenly believe that any prospective patient clearly recognizes that the competitive hospital or medical office down the street is lacking in quality of care.

Thus, they believe, the other business would be a poor choice. It’s not hubris or excessive self-pride—but patients just don’t think that way. Doctors and patients use totally different value systems for judging quality. Here’s how this extremely common issue often leads to problems.

The marketing competitor advertises aggressively. The general public mistakenly confuses high-visibility with an assumption of quality. The frequent and active advertising attracts self-referred patients. Mistake number one is that self-driven public awareness is not a barometer of quality.

Mistake number two is that the local medical community quietly believes that competitive business is somehow lacking, “and everyone knows it.” Some doctors might agree about the quality gap. But the greater mistake is when they believe the public is making the same evaluation and conclusion. Not true.

It turns out that a patient is not judging doctor quality at all. The short circuit disconnect on the patient side is that they invariably judge providers on personal interactions and the dynamics of their experience.

Doctor “quality” attributes mainly include “being attentive,” “competency,” “caring,” and “bedside manner and relationship with the patient.” Worse, the patient judgment and evaluation mainly happen during and after their visit.

Judging doctor quality – what to do instead…

The general public has no clinical training and virtually no authoritative way to judge medical quality or competency as doctors might. But largely on the strength of the frequent advertising barrage, the public responds and turns to the loud-voiced competitor in droves. Proactively respond in a situation like this:

Don’t be dismissive of the competitive business. Good or bad quality, the public isn’t going to recognize quality distinctions among provider options the way that doctors do. Prepare to tell your own story.

Be informative and educational, not judgmental. Provide the public with compelling guidance. Clinical training, experience and credentials are valuable considerations along with “empathy,” “time with patients,” and “engaging personality.”

Tell a much better story. Proactively deliver a consistent and compelling message that educates and informs. Clearly differentiate the what-why-and-how that is above and beyond the competition. Deliver specific concepts with supporting proof points.

Bridge expectations. Healthcare delivery is a service industry with retail/consumer expectations.

Taking the higher point of view…

Our friend Paul Rosen, MD, Medical Officer, Transforming Clinical Practice Initiative, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services published an article titled: The Patient as Consumer and the Measurement of Bedside Manner [NEJM Catalyst]. Dr. Rosen writes:

“Consumer surveys show that patients value the correct diagnosis, a proper treatment plan, and the doctor’s medical knowledge. However, patients also value whether the doctor treats them with respect and dignity, listens and cares, takes time, and takes them seriously. The ideal patient experience merges excellent medical care, high-quality outcomes, compassion, and empathy that address the emotional needs of patients.”

The key takeaway idea is that the competency, or lack of competency, in the competition down the street is not understood or apparent to prospective patients. The best answer to a proactive competitor is to have a better story than the guy down the street and to tell it better than anyone else.

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