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May 5, 2021
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David Burda
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Cost and Access Top Quality When Seniors Shop for Care

If you’re a regular reader of my weekly blog posts, you know I’m always looking for signs that patients are becoming informed healthcare consumers and that the pandemic is fueling that transformation in how people engage with the healthcare system. 

A new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine tells me I need to become more nuanced in my journey, especially when it comes to the age of patients. If this study is correct, the only thing that really matters to elderly patients is how much their care will cost. You can download the study here

Six researchers from the University of Michigan wanted to know the extent to which older adults used online physician ratings to pick a doctor. And by older, they meant adults age 50 to 80. They surveyed 2,256 of them, and 43 percent said they looked up ratings or reviews of a physician online before they selected him or her to be their doctor.

Women, more educated people and those with at least one chronic condition were more likely to look at online ratings or reviews than men, less educated people and those with no chronic  conditions, the survey found.

But, in the end, the online ratings or reviews didn’t check the box. Money did. 

By far, the number one reason the respondents said they selected a physician was whether the doctor accepted their health insurance—cited by 93 percent of the older adults at “very important.”

Online ratings or reviews? They came in ninth on a list of 10 factors—cited by only 20.3 percent as “very important” in partnering with someone who will help them stay healthy, get healthy, live or die.  

A distant second on the list of factors was how long it takes to get an appointment, cited by 61.2 percent of the older adults. That was followed by convenient office location (58.7 percent) and convenient office hours (58.2 percent). Last on the list was where the doctor went to medical school (17.4 percent).

I guess the good news is patients are picking doctors based on cost and access. Are they in-network? Can I get an appointment? How far away is the office? The bad news is, patients aren’t picking doctors based on quality—or at least quality as defined by experience, by other patients or by training.  

If you’ve ever been at an all-you-can-eat free buffet on a cruise ship, this makes total sense.

If you’re not elbowing other older adults out of the way when they bring out the hot rolls and have time to catch up on my quest to prove that healthcare consumerism is on the rise, read the following posts:

Thanks for reading.

About the Author

David Burda

David Burda began covering healthcare in 1983 and hasn’t stopped since. Dave writes this monthly column “Burda on Healthcare,” contributes weekly blog posts, manages our weekly newsletter 4sight Friday, and hosts our weekly Roundup podcast. Dave believes that healthcare is a business like any other business, and customers — patients — are king. If you do what’s right for patients, good business results will follow.

Dave’s personnel experiences with the healthcare system both as a patient and family caregiver have shaped his point of view. It’s also been shaped by covering the industry for 40 years as a reporter and editor. He worked at Modern Healthcare for 25 years, the last 11 as editor.

Prior to Modern Healthcare, he did stints at the American Medical Record Association (now AHIMA) and the American Hospital Association. After Modern Healthcare, he wrote a monthly column for Twin Cities Business explaining healthcare trends to a business audience, and he developed and executed content marketing plans for leading healthcare corporations as the editorial director for healthcare strategies at MSP Communications.

When he’s not reading and writing about healthcare, Dave spends his time riding the trails of DuPage County, IL, on his bike, tending his vegetable garden and daydreaming about being a lobster fisherman in Maine. He lives in Wheaton, IL, with his lovely wife of 40 years and his three children, none of whom want to be journalists or lobster fishermen.

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