What You Didn’t Know About the Doctor-Patient Relationship

In an effort to make the once mysterious world of health-care more transparent, there are tools emerging that provide patients with more insight than they’ve ever had about a doctor’s or hospital’s outcomes.

Private groups like LeapFrog, companies like FairChex and even government programs like Star Ratings have all tossed their hats into the ring of health care with the mission of grading hospitals and physicians based on results.

Overall, this increased access to information has caused patients to act more like consumers. Gone are the days when a convenient location, extended office hours or a physician referral was enough to bring patients through the door. Now it’s all about providing patients with value, and good results are a vital element in that equation.

However, research has shown that there is another factor that plays an even bigger role in a patient’s perception of value and it has almost nothing to do with results.

Patients value doctors’ personalities above all

According to a study by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Chicago, Americans primarily evaluate a provider based on his or her personality and the quality of the interaction they had with the physician.

“When it comes to defining provider quality, most Americans tend to focus on certain aspects of quality relating to doctor-patient interactions and doctors’ personality traits, rather than the effectiveness of the care provided or the patient’s own health outcomes,” the study said

In a separate study done by Journal of Participatory Medicine, 85 percent of respondents said that having a doctor who listens to them was critical to their health care experience. Additionally, 71 percent of respondents said that having a doctor who was compassionate and caring was critical to their experience.

Patients rarely mention technical expertise as a critical factor, but rather focus on empathy and willingness to listen as the key.

Here’s a simple test you can perform on your own to see what patients in your area truly value:

  • Navigate to HealthGrades
  • Scroll down to the “Let’s Get Started. What Kind of Specialist Are You Looking For?”
  • Click on “Family Medicine”
  • Click on one of the first doctors you see on the page, aim for one that has a fair number of reviews
  • Scroll down to the review section near the bottom of the page
  • Read the written reviews

Did you notice a common theme in the reviews?

Patients tend to focus on their relationship with the doctor rather than the actual results of their treatment, right? Common phrases are:

  • “[Dr. A] takes the time to really listen…”
  • “[Dr. B] explained my ailments in detail...”
  • “[Dr. C] is courteous and friendly...”

Over time it’s possible that patients’ attitudes may shift as as more quality data becomes available (and it will become more broadly available in the coming years if trends hold), but today how you present your personality and patient-friendliness is vitally important.

What can you do?

The moral of this story is that you, as a physician, must take proactive steps to shape your reputation. This is true for all doctors, but it’s especially important for independent physicians and small group practices who face an increasingly competitive landscape and large provider systems that have a tendency to gobble up and consolidate.

Here are some practical and easy ways you can make sure that your appearance online is accurate and beneficial to your practice:

1. Use your website to communicate your personableness

We now know that patients value a relationship with their doctor over actual outcomes. This information is incredibly valuable because it plays into how you need to build your public image.

In the past, many medical practices have focused solely on providing people with basic information, often through the use of boring and static pages. However, this simply won’t cut it in a world that’s more focused on value and relationships. Instead, you should focus on getting high-quality imagery that makes you and your practice feel approachable and human.

Compare these two websites for a minute. Which practice feels more approachable to you?


Notice the static and boring design that is focused solely on providing consumers with information about the practice.

Or this?

Notice the high-quality imagery of a physician working with a patient. Consumers know who they’ll seeing when they walk through the doors of the practice and they aren’t overwhelmed with paragraphs of information right off the bat.

Here are some other ways that you can make your website more relationship-centered:

  • Include patient testimonials that talk about your care and bedside manner
  • Use images of you and your office staff interacting with patients and families
  • Include a bio of yourself and other members of your practice
  • Finally, if your budget allows for it, create some high quality videos that highlight your personableness and include some patient testimonials. This Atlantic Brain & Spine video is a great example.

Creating an informative, well-designed website will allow you to stand out from your competition, build your online reputation and improve your placement in Google’s search results.

2. Build and keep track of your online reviews

This study from Bright Local discovered that 84 percent of consumers trust online reviews – on sites such as Google, HealthGrades, Vitals and RateMDs – as much as personal recommendations, and 40 percent reported physician rating sites are “very important” when choosing a doctor.

"Patients value online review data so much because they see it as one of the most trustworthy ways to evaluate practice efficiency and physician empathy," said Gaby Loria of Software Advice, a company that researches and hosts reviews of medical software solutions.

"For years, patients put up with disappointments at the doctor's office, like long wait times or brusque bedside manners, without much recourse. Today, patients expect more from their providers and they have access to platforms like online reviews sites that can hold practices accountable. Thanks to these sites, everyone has the power to weigh in on whether a physician should be commended for excellent care or held to a higher standard.”

Start by searching for yourself or your practice on a few of the major review sites like:

Are you listed on these sites? Do you already have some reviews? If you haven’t already, it’s time that you took control of your listings online. All of the websites above allow you to claim ownership of your profiles so you can fill out your information more clearly, drive people back to your flashy new website and, most importantly, monitor and respond to any review that comes your way.

How do you claim a listing? It’s a pretty simple process. Just scroll around the page until you find some text that says something like, “Are you [Dr. X]? Claim your listing today!” Simply click on that link, create your profile with the website, verify that you are the rightful owner of the account and you’re all set!

Now comes the fun part. It’s time for you to start getting and responding to reviews.

It’s important to note that anyone who takes the time to leave a review on any of your listings, whether good or bad, deserves a response. It also provides you with an incredible opportunity to show how much you care about your patients’ experiences and outcomes. Not to mention, it’s another platform to amplify your own voice, so don’t miss the chance to demonstrate how much you care.

Don’t have any reviews? Start by identifying patients who have had an exceptional outcome or experience and specifically ask them if they’d be willing to leave you a “five star” review. You don’t need to get a ton all at once, but try to keep at least one or two coming in every month.

However, if you’re going to ask patients to leave reviews, you need to make sure that the process is foolproof and easy for anyone, regardless of their age. The more steps that are involved in leaving a review, the less likely someone is going to do it. You can simplify the process by creating a step-by-step tutorial showing patients how to leave a review on whatever platform you want to focus on, you can hire a staff member to help walk patients through the process or you can hire an outside agency that contacts the patients for you.

3. Let your personality shine through on social media

Start by creating a Facebook account, if you don’t already have one, and post to it regularly. You can update your followers on office events, share your latest blog posts, or give some health-related tips. The key here is to post content that will provide value to your patients or potential patients. You want to demonstrate your expertise, show potential patients that you care about them as people, prove that you are an expert at your craft and reply to any questions or comments that may arise.

4. Take the time to listen

Taking a step back, you also need to be aware of how you’re treating your patients when they’re in your office. We understand that you’re busy and have lots of people to see throughout the day, but now you know that patients care most about their relationship and experience with you, so be friendly and courteous with every person that you see. More importantly, make sure that you’re taking the time to listen to what they’re saying and clearly explain what you’re planning on doing for them and make sure your staff does the same.

Remember that a few extra minutes could be the difference between a patient who highly recommends you to all their friends or one that leaves you a scathing online review.

Wesley Fouse is a digital marketing specialist at Pinkston, Inc. Stay updated on all Pinkston content by following us on Twitter (@Pinkston_co).