The Distracted Patient

By   |  November 7, 2017



Previously we identified a growing problem facing individual healthcare providers with Lost Referrals, a/k/a Leakage.  Since professional recommendations remain the primary source of new patients, every provider needs to protect against losing patients to other doctors and health systems.  Now we explore how easily patients get lost when they research a referred doctor on the web.

Let’s take a look at James, a typical patient whose Primary Care Physician (PCP) has referred to Dr. Charles Smith within a singular health network.  James visited his PCP complaining of shoulder pain when lifting his arm above his head.  The referring PCP is very familiar with Dr. Smith who is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon specializing in shoulder injuries.  The PCP has sent many his patients to Dr. Smith and is quite confident that he has sent his patient, James, to the right specialist.

James, however, is totally unfamiliar with Dr. Charles Smith.  The deductible on James’ health insurance plan is $5,000 per year.  He is concerned that the injury could lead to surgery and/or expensive physical therapy sessions.  He has already looked up shoulder pain on the web and he thinks he might have tendonitis.  James needs to learn more about Dr. Smith and shoulder injuries before he books an appointment with him.  On the way out the door of the PCP’s office, James already has his cell phone out and has typed ‘Charles Smith MD’ before even getting to the lobby.  Here’s what he is likely to find:

  1. Local Google results for doctors named Charles Smith, with a map and direct links to their websites (if they have a one);
  2. A link to Dr. Charles Smith’s page on a hospital website where Dr. Smith has admitting privileges;
  3. Individual links to profile pages on Healthgrades, Vitals, WebMD, and U.S. News & World Report;
  4. A link to a practice website;
  5. Pay-Per-Click ads to look up Charles Smith’s public records and criminal background.

James selects the Healthgrades result since it features star ratings and patient reviews as well.  Immediately, an advertisement appears at the top of Dr. Smith’s profile page for a pharmaceutical product, and another on the right side for a local primary care doctor.  As James scrolls down to learn more about Dr. Smith, additional ads appear along with links to the profiles of nine other competing orthopedists on the left side of the screen.  These links also include star ratings and distances to the current position of James’ cell phone.  At the bottom of Dr. Smith’s profile page is a section header titled ‘Compare Dr. Smith’, followed by photos and links to four competing orthopedists.

The other provider directories display similar results, advertisements and competing profiles as well.

Obviously, it’s not hard for James to become distracted and wind up at another provider’s profile or webpage.  In fact, the provider-directories actively encourage James to visit other profiles so they can spin-up additional ads when he visits another page.

Dr. Charles Smith is about to lose his referral.

And one more thing – our fictitious patient, James, would like to book his appointment with his cell phone, and not by using it to call Dr. Smith’s office, either.  We’ll talk more about that next.

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