National Cancer Institute (NCI)

Source: National Cancer Institute (NCI)

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Survey: Most Patients Believe a Doctor’s Personality is Most Important When Choosing a Doctor

While socializing with friends one evening, one recently described how happy she was with a new doctor. With a large smile, she relayed how kind her doctor was and how easy it was to talk with this doctor about her health situation. I’m glad my friend was treated so well by this doctor. Not every patient is treated with dignity and respect, unfortunately.

Patient-Doctor Communication is Very Important

A 2014 survey by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that, “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.” I translate this to mean that the human-to-human interaction is one of the most important things when it comes to judging your health care quality. We don’t like feeling like an experiment in a science lab; we want to be treated as though we’re unique individuals with unique health care needs. Having a primary care doctor with a good bedside manner is key to helping you manage your medications, getting timely screening tests, and taking the right lifestyle steps.

Photo: Dan Saelinger

Photo: Dan Saelinger

A Doctor’s Experience Matters When It Comes to Safe Health Outcomes

Less than a quarter of consumers are receiving provider quality information, according to the Robert Wood Johnson survey. Most people are not very confident they could find provider quality information they can trust on their own, including direct comparisons of physicians.  Additionally, Americans report that they would trust word-of-mouth and personal recommendations from doctors far more than provider quality data coming from the government or third parties.

If you’re about to get a hip or knee replacement, more than likely you have some time to plan out your surgery, like deciding who will be your surgeon. In that situation, you will want someone who has experience doing these surgeries, and someone whose patients have good outcomes overall. You’ll want to shop around and compare hospital quality information, ask for recommendations, and do your own online research.

We strongly recommend that you look up your doctor on your state’s medical board website. Find out if your doctor has received drug company money by using this handy Dollars for Docs tool by our friends at ProPublica.

In my campaign organizer role at Consumers Union’s Safe Patient Project, I am more accustomed to hearing people’s negative, even tragic, experiences with medical providers. These stories help me understand the problems in our health care system, and most often I connect with these patients because they contact us, or I seek them asking if they would be willing to share their experiences publicly, most often to news reporters. I am amazed by what I hear, and deeply grateful that these individuals have given their time and trust to a stranger (me). It’s a vital part of what we do to serve the larger purpose of reducing, and ultimately ending medical harm.

What factors do you consider when choosing a doctor? Do you care more about having a doctor who communicates well or is it more important that your doctor has lots of experience and skills?