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What Do People Really Look for When Choosing a New Doctor?

Imagine deciding to pull the trigger and buy a house based only on the fact that the building has a front door and is for sale, or asking someone to give your hair a makeover just because they own a pair of scissors and are available. For a long time this is how patients found their doctor, making decisions based on minimal information that was hard to find. Any traits of true value in the patient-doctor match-up were often hard to find before stepping into the doctor’s office. But as with so many things in today’s digital world, patients expect that matchmaking with a new doctor be online, informative and easy.

And just as people now filter when finding a dinner spot that offers specific features, like outdoor seating or accepts reservations, patients expect to see certain characteristics they care about when searching for a new doctor: What education does the physician have? What languages do they speak? What appointment slots do they have open next week?

The lack of easy access to this information beforehand hampered the chances of the new patient-doctor relationship flourishing on first meeting.

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In the recent Match Made In Medicine study, Zocdoc took a deep dive into what people care about most when searching for a new doctor and how doctors can market these traits online. Here’s what we found:

1. Education

More than anything else, Americans (80%) believe a good education is important in a doctor. This doesn’t mean patients are demanding that their physician be a Harvard-educated genius, but they do appreciate seeing where the doctor graduated and whether they are board certified or not.

That clichéd doctor’s vanity wall of dusty, hard-to-read certificates? It’s now right there on the patient’s phone, available at a glance before they even step into the office.

When patients have this kind of information on-hand before that first meeting, it gives both parties confidence to get straight into building a great relationship and discussing why the patient is really there.

2. Communication

Good communication is everything to a new patient – more Americans believe that it is important that a doctor asks good questions than even a romantic partner. Furthermore, 74% consider that being a good listener is an important factor.

And  when it comes to communication, gender plays a role. Women find being a good listener more important and are more willing than men to be open about their embarrassing symptoms and mental health.

3. Trustworthiness

Trustworthiness is considered one of the most important (77%) traits in a doctor. But how can a patient really know if a doctor is considered trusted before meeting them? Characteristics like bedside manner can be found on a star rating system on online doctor profiles. Also patients’ comments and reviews of a doctor can provide valuable insight into personality.

Just as you’d be more confident eating sushi from a restaurant with a five-star review, a doctor with a high crowd-sourced rating for bedside manner is going to put you at ease. This is another concern that a patient can leave alleviate before the first meeting.

4. Location

Unsurprisingly, location is a key factor in selecting a new doctor – 70% said it is important that their doctor be close-by, however 68% said they would be willing to travel further for a great doctor than they would for a great date. Just like Yelp or Lyft, the mapping of local doctors is now a key function in searching for doctors online.

5. Congeniality

While not as important as education, trustworthiness or location, likability is a valuable trait – 43% of patients look for a doctor with a sense of humor.

Around one in four (26%) Americans consider the appearance of a doctor to be important. Now this doesn’t mean patients are flipping through doctors head shots and swiping right on the most attractive ones, but a well-presented amiable profile photo can only help form a great start to what is arguably one of the most intimate relationships anyone has in their life.

The power of peer recommendations can’t be undersold. Half (52%) of patients consider the fact that a doctor is well-liked by other people to be important, and among those, women (59%) are more likely than men (45%) to think it is important that their doctor is popular.

It used to be the case that this would come from word of mouth – family or friends telling you that you MUST see their chiropractor, he’s the BEST. Now of course other people’s favorite doctors and their opinions of them are gathered online.

What does this all mean? It tells us that patients expect to have a place online where they can find key information they care about on potential doctor matches. Patients should be able to enjoy the same convenient online experience in finding a doctor as elsewhere in life. 

And while the idea of marketing yourself as a doctor may seem intimidating, many online profiles are intuitive and easy to set up. For doctors, making themselves searchable online should be a priority in the new era of patient-doctor matchmaking.

Comments (6)
  1. You were right when you said that location plays an important role when it comes to finding a doctor and that many people will prefer working with a doctor whose office was near their location. That’s because they want to be able to reach their doctors in case of an emergency. A friend of mine has had a near death experience because she lives four miles away from her doctor. I don’t want the same thing to happen to me or anyone of my family. Anyway, thank you for sharing.

  2. Ellen Hughes,

    I do like that you pointed out how the location becomes the key factor in choosing a family doctor since most families want their doctors to be close-by. My husband and I are planning to find a family doctor. We can’t help but feel anxious when a family member is sick, so we only wanted to deal with a family doctor that we can easily visit to provide the medical attention that we need immediately.

  3. Sharon Wilson-Smith, n

    I like that you said that 70% of people prefer to see a doctor that’s close to their place because the location is important for them. My husband and I are actually looking for a pain management doctor for his father. We want to make sure that his dad won’t miss his appointments. Since his dad’s back pain is difficult to manage, he doesn’t want to see a doctor that will require him to drive for hours.


    My husband and I are going to be looking for a new medical clinic now that we’ve moved to be closer to his parents, and you have a great list of what people should and do look for in a great clinic service. It’s definitely true that it’s important to us that the clinic we choose be close by, though as you said, we’d be willing to travel for a particularly excellent doctor if necessary. Getting someone that has something of a sense of humor as well, like you said, is definitely important to connecting well with a medical professional.

  5. Derek Dewitt

    My family and I just moved to a new area so I am looking for a new doctor to start visiting. I like your point about choosing a doctor that is located nearby. We’ll be sure to do this so we don’t have a long commute for appointments or emergencies.

  6. Derek Dewitt

    My family and I just moved to a new area so we are looking for a doctor to start visiting nearby. I like your point about choosing a doctor that has had lots of training and education. I’ll be sure to ask about their credentials so I know my family is in good hands.

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