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Love Thy Doctor: Recent Statistics Say Otherwise

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By: burgundy bug

Illustration of a conversation between the patient and physician

Source: The Burgundy Zine

Do you love your doctor, the health care specialist who you’re supposed to entrust with your life and wellbeing?

If you don’t, you’re not alone. A recent Vanguard Communications study shows that doctors are 72 percent more likely to receive a one-star review than lawyers.

Yet, most of the online-complaints against doctors aren’t about the physicians themselves, rather, the practice they work in. But the blame still tends to fall on the doctor.

“More and more people buy things online, and they do it by comparing notes on their experiences with services and products they’re buying online,” said Vanguard Communications CEO Ron Harman King during our recent interview with him. “And that’s now very much a factor in choosing doctors.”

In the first 10 organic search results for a doctor, it’s very likely that at least three will be “rate your doctor” websites, King added.

The leading complaints against doctors were poor communication and long wait times, whereas those who gave five-star reviews praised their doctor’s bedside manner and friendly staff.

Three-star reviews are more commonplace in other industries, such as hospitality, King explained. Individuals tend to be more critical of their doctors than they are of restaurants or hotels.

“I think the main reason is they consider a physician’s services much more critical,” he said. “It’s a lot more important that you get treated well and correctly by a doctor than you do when you go out. You can always go to another restaurant; there’s no life-assessing, life-threatening aspects to eating out or staying in a hotel, generally.”

Another Vanguard Communications article expands on the review results further, detailing the type of complaints against doctors.

“96 percent of complaints (one and two star reviews of poor health care) are about customer service,” King said. “Less than four percent are about what their doctor did and the quality of care, [which means] less than one out of 20 people are less concerned about how their doctor performed clinically. Yet, all of physician training and continuing medical education is focused on great clinical care. Not on the fact that your patient had to wait an hour and a half, two hours just to see you.”

Patients’ Customer Service Related Complaints

  • Communication complaints: 53 percent
  • Wait-time complaints: 35 percent
  • Staff complaints: 12 percent
  • Billing complaints: 2 percent

“Physicians are just becoming aware of how much this can affect their business,” King explained. “Interestingly, what I think they’re not realizing is, more often than not, the complaints and the low ratings they get are not really about what they do and the quality of care they deliver, but it’s about what the people around them do and how well they treat the patient.”

Much of the time, doctors feel helpless because the complaints aren’t necessarily in their control, King explained. “They’re either not the owner of the practice or they’re employee physicians at a hospital, and they just don’t really have a lot of power to affect some of these customer service changes.”

When asked more specific questions about the quality of care, a 2019 Pew Research Center report found 73 percent of Americans had a “mostly positive” view of medical doctors.

  • Doctors care about their patients’ best interests “all or most of the time” (57 percent)
  • Doctors do a good time providing recommendations “all or most of the time” (49 percent)
  • Doctors provide fair and accurate information “all or most of the time” (48 percent)
  • Doctors are transparent about their conflicts of interests “some of the time” (50 percent)
  • Doctors admit their mistakes and take responsibility “some of the time” (46 percent)

While the national overview of doctors tends to be “mostly positive” and about half of all patients seem to trust that doctors have their best interests, the majority of those surveyed feel doctors aren’t entirely transparent or willing to admit their mistakes.

Additionally, 35 percent felt there is a “moderately big problem” of professional misconduct.” 50 percent said doctors face consequences for their misconduct “some of the time,” while 30 percent said doctors hardly face consequences.

“It is hard to get them to accept responsibility for clinical problems,” King said. “I think there’s a tendency for humans not to want to admit mistakes, and there’s especially a lot of pressure on physicians these days to do that for a lot of good reasons. One lawsuit can put them out of practice.”

Why Patient Satisfaction Matters

Again, we’re talking about medical professionals here – individuals who may be responsible for you in a life-or-death situation.

Needless to say, you should feel comfortable with your care team, whether they’re your primary care physician, a critical-care doctor, your dentist, or your dermatologist.

Negative experiences breed fear and ambivalence, which will cause patients to put off getting unknown ailments and mysterious illnesses to checked out by a doctor – and that “just walk it off” attitude could cost them their life.

In fact, there’s already a trend of Americans opting out of doctors’ visits and tests.

Forty percent of Americans skipped a recommended medical treatment or test in the last year due to cost, and 32 percent were unable to fill a prescription due to cost, says a national survey conducted at the University of Chicago in 2018.

Although finances lie at the heart of patients’ skipping out of tests in the University of Chicago study, patient satisfaction is still part of the puzzle.

When 18.2 million Americans are uninsured, why expect them to shell out money for healthcare they’re not entirely confident in?

According to America’s Debt Help Organization, a 10-minute visit with a new, uninsured patient averages about $68, and a complex visit of about 40-minutes with the doctor averages about $234.

Regardless of what your budget may look like and why, that’s a lot of money for most individuals – especially for the average 18 to 34-year-old, who make up 31.4 percent of uninsured individuals in the United States, reports the National Center for Health Statistics’ 2018 survey.

Although CVS’ Path to Better Health study from last year doesn’t specify whether a lack of insurance was causing patients to skip doctor’s appointments, it did find only 27 percent of millennials reported having a primary care physician.

Read: Millennials Are Ghosting the Social Life and Burying Their Health, CVS Study Says

The Burgundy Zine

Improving Healthcare Experiences

“When health care managers and management teams can start thinking more like hotels, restaurants, and resorts, they’ll see dramatic improvements in the reviews of their providers.”

Ron King, Vanguard Communications CEO

“People still want to form personal relationships with their physicians,” King said. “And the reviews, I think, are not by nature a good one-stop indicator of the physician because they’re not scientific, first of all. Secondly, it’s just a glimpse of a few customers.”

Additionally, healthcare providers weren’t always faced with the regulatory and economic challenges that pressure them today, he continued.

“They’re [increasingly] pressured to run more efficiently, and they’ve not really been trained to do that,” King added. “They’re not wired and engineered for customer service. Doctors are trained intensely for many years on how to be great scientists, not how to be great business managers and excel in everything the 21st-century consumer expects now in every field.”

Furthermore, the health care industry is everchanging and still adapting to the information age, just as every other industry is finding its footing in the digital landscape.

“From the patient’s point of view, it’s not as easy picking healthcare as it is buying a car or even picking a school for your kids to go to or a neighborhood to live in,” King said. “It’s slowly changing, but mind you, it’s not changing fast enough.”

Even with legislation that requires hospitals to publish their data, there aren’t standards to guide them on how to make it more patient-friendly, rendering their data unhelpful for the average person, he explained.

“It has changed over the last 10 years, it will change more rapidly in the next 10 years,” King explained.

“In the meantime, I’d say all of us who are healthcare consumers – which is all 327 million Americans – be an activist for your own health.”

Ron King, Vanguard Communications CEO

“Don’t accept the first answer to anything, whether it’s looking for a physician or even a physician’s advice. Doctors don’t like for me to say this, but if you have a chronic or potentially life-altering or life-threatening illness, you owe it to yourself to be a thorough shopper.”

Although doctors may feel they’re at the mercy of the healthcare management teams who run the practice, Vanguard does offer suggestions to help the entire staff improve a patient’s experience.

  • Better communication: Keep patients in the loop. It’s their health, after all. Report results in a timely manner and let them know if wait-times will be over 15-minutes. Be sure to ask the patient if they have any questions about their treatment, visit, or tests, as well.
  • Better organization: Hire organized staff who can help with communication and scheduling. Automated appointment reminders and online-scheduling may also help manage large patient volume.
  • Better disposition: Having a cheerful, empathetic demeanor can help keep patients at ease, whether it’s a routine visit or something more serious.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Despite the customer service complaints against doctors, which again, are often not entirely in their control, the five-star reviews in Vanguard’s study spoke volumes on behalf of the physician’s bedside manner, practice staff, and communication.

“The great majority of reviews are positive,” the study explains. “61 percent reviewers gave five stars, five percent gave four stars, three percent gave three stars, nine percent gave two stars, and 23 percent gave one star.”

Happy patients also gave the most reviews. “69 percent of content was written by five-star reviewers, 12 percent by four-star reviewers, four percent by three-star reviewers, 11 percent by two-star reviewers and 12 percent by one-star reviewers.”

In Conclusion

When seeking a new doctor, it’s important to take the reviews online with a great deal of salt.

“You have to look at the aggregate of reviews, and not focus on one or two extremely good or negative reviews,” King said. “And look for patterns of complaints. If you’ve got 20 reviews online for a clinic or a doctor and 12 of them are about running behind, then you’ve probably got a good idea that it’s not a punctual practice.”

It’s also important to seek other sources when trying to obtain information about a doctor. For example, the health care provider’s website can give you a better idea of what the doctor is like and what they specialize in.

King says patients should be asking questions like: “How accessible is the website? How easy is it to find? What do you read about the individual doctors that you may like or dislike? And most importantly, can you kind of preview the doctor with a video, a podcast, or something where you can hear and possibly see the doctor speaking? [That way], you get a real sense of their personality and whether they feel like the right person for you.”

Additionally, King suggests reading reliable websites to learn more about your condition and to speak with other patients who see the doctor to get a better sense of what the visit may be like.

“Pay a lot of attention and do not become complacent health care consumers,” he said. “This is fortunately a really free-market society with lots of consumer choices and people shouldn’t feel intimidated by any one thing they see or hear, especially any one thing they see or hear from a physician.”

“Lots of physicians have different opinions, they disagree with each other consistently, and I say to people listen to as many physicians as you can if it really matters to you.”

Ron King, Vanguard Communications CEO

About Vanguard Communications

Vanguard Communications has been providing patient-friendly content to private and academic health care institutions throughout the United States in 18 different specialties for 26 years.

After discovering their clients were unable to keep up with the increase in patients, Vanguard Communications launched Process Improvement to help practices operate more efficiently, economically, see more patients, and ultimately improve their business.

“We guarantee every client a 15 to 30 percent increase in new patient visits or we will work for free,” King said. “We’ve never had to work for free; the lowest increase we’ve had in patient visits is 19 percent.”

Visit Vanguard Communications’ website to learn more about their data and services.
Be sure to follow Vanguard Communications on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as well!

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burgundy bug


A cynical optimist and mad scientist undercover, burgundy bug is the editor, graphic designer, webmaster, social media manager, and primary photographer for The Burgundy Zine. Entangled in a web of curiosity, burgundy bug’s work embodies a wide variety of topics including: neuroscience, psychology, ecology, biology, cannabis, reviews, fashion, entertainment, and politics. You can learn more about working with burgundy bug by visiting her portfolio website: burgundybug.com

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