The Research & Marketing Strategies (RMS) healthcare team recently came across an article posted in the most current edition of Quirk’s Marketing Research Review. The article summarizes a survey conducted by HealthPocket, which discusses how one-third of patients may switch doctors if the price was right.

Here is the article text taken from the Quirk’s website:

“While more than 40 percent of Americans would be unwilling to change regular doctors for a reduction in health plan costs, another 34 percent would prefer lowering the cost of their health plan instead of keeping their doctor, according to a survey conducted by HealthPocket, a Sunnyvale, Calif., health plan ranking web site. Of those willing to make the switch, it wouldn’t take a whole lot of savings to sway them. When asked ‘If changing from your doctor to another doctor could save you money on your health plan premium costs, how much would you have to save annually to make the switch?’, more than half of the 34 percent who would switch would do so for the lowest savings amount presented by the survey: $500-$1,000 annually. Eight percent said they would switch for $1,000 to $2,000 and 7.5 percent for $3,000-plus. While the plurality would stay loyal to their regular doctor, the 34 percent willing to walk away contradicts other research that has shown that many patients are highly satisfied with the care provided by their personal physician, such as a survey from The Physicians Foundation that found that nearly 80 percent of patients were very satisfied or extremely satisfied with the visit(s) with their family physician or primary care doctor in the past year. Other than cost, one of the key factors in consumers’ selection process for health insurance is whether their doctor participates in a plan’s network of providers. For insurers, cost pressures are moving them to limit the size of their provider networks to negotiate lower rates to health care providers in exchange for a larger volume of patients.”

healthcare trends

Our healthcare management team offered their opinions on the topic below:

Susan Maxsween, Director of Healthcare and Practice Transformation, and Karen Joncas, Healthcare Transformation Coordinator, said: The three primary drivers consumers use to choose their health care provider are cost, quality and access.  The contradictions seen in comparing the different research findings indicate that cost may be more heavily weighted in the minds of some healthcare consumers.  In reality, the drivers are weighted differently based upon multiple variables driven by the healthcare consumers’ individualized needs including, but not limited to, the perceived or real health status of the patient and need of visit (e.g. acute, episodic, preventive or co-morbid conditions), patient lifestyle and trust in and rapport with the physician.

What is the impact of the changing landscape of healthcare delivery, which is predominately driven by cost?  As the article references, health plans need to become proactive in limiting their provider networks to negotiate the best financial rates.  For the provider, this means that they have to better manage and understand their patient mix based upon payers, as well as their cost of doing business to ensure that they attract and maintain a strong and loyal patient base and, most importantly, to better understand what drives their patient’s health care needs and choices. In essence, to some individuals cost can be perceived as the “king” in making a decision while to others the ultimate choice will be predicated on other drivers and variables.

Megan O’Donnell, Manager of RMS Healthcare Analytics said: More than ever, these findings show that physicians and medical practices must constantly strive to improve upon the patient experience. While a physician may not be able to control the COST of a visit for the patient (which is mainly driven by the health plan), he/she can control the VALUE of that visit. Physician practices may be “the last frontier” for customer service, but the time has come when patients (consumers) are looking for quality service (medical care) at a price they are willing to pay (in the form of health plan premiums and other costs). The actual medical care that a patient receives is likely to be relatively consistent from physician to physician, so what will make the difference in the patient’s experience is the access to and ease of receiving care, communication skills of the provider and staff, the overall comfort level the patient experiences at the visit, etc. A patient must feel that they are being listened to, respected and understood as a whole patient and person.

Changing the mindset of the physician and practice to understand that patients are no longer patients for life, but must be earned and continuously valued as a customer, may not be an easy transition. However, showing patients that the level of care provided by your practice is of greater value to the patient will make them more loyal to your practice, and more willing to pay a higher premium for that care when given the opportunity for savings.

RMS Healthcare, a healthcare consulting firm providing services to physician practices, has proven success working with physicians, large multi-site practices, hospitals, physician organizations and ancillary healthcare providers.  We specialize in practice management, Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH), Specialty Care Program Recognition (SPR), HIPAA Compliance Training, strategic business planning and practice operations assessments.  We are also a certified CAHPS® patient satisfaction survey vendor.  If you are looking to learn more about our services, contact our Director of Healthcare and Practice Transformation, Susan Maxsween at or by calling (315) 635-9802. If you have any specific questions about the patient satisfaction surveying process and operations, contact Megan O’Donnell at or by calling the same telephone number.