Research Reveals What Shapes Patient Impressions of Doctors

October 27, 2003

“The customer is always right.” Companies apply this tenet of business when creating consumer loyalty. Physicians and health plans would be well advised to consider doing a similar thing. A recent study led by Ming Tai-Seale, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate professor at The Texas A&M University System Health Science Center’s School of Rural Public Health, indicates that the more choice people feel they have when choosing a doctor, the better they feel about their doctor. The article, “The Public’s Opinion of Physicians: Do Perceived Choice and Exercised Choice Matter?” appears in the September 2003 issue of The American Journal of Managed Care.
Tai-Seale and co-author Bernice Pescosolido, Ph.D., chancellor’s professor at Indiana University, use data from the General Social Survey, a national survey administered by the National Opinion Research Center, to study the role of choice in shaping the public’s opinion of physicians. They find that when people feel like they don’t get to choose their physician or don’t have enough options, they trust their physicians less and are more concerned about the influence of managed care on their personal physicians’ practice patterns.

One way to influence choice is to give people meaningful information. Tai-Seale and Pescosolido suggest that physician report cards could potentially provide this information. When people can see which physicians have the best ratings and choose among them, they feel like they are getting the best health care available to them.
“If patients have good information to help them make choices, and if they are able to switch providers when they want to,” says Tai-Seale, “they will be less likely to feel trapped and be concerned about undue influences from managed care.”
There’s news for physicians in the study as well. Despite prevailing negative opinions about HMOs and evidence of erosion of the public’s trust in physicians, the study finds that only a small percentage of the public actually changed health plans and health care providers due to dissatisfaction, a variable the study’s authors used to examine its effect on public opinions of physicians.
The Texas A&M University System Health Science Center provides the state with health education, outreach and research. Its five components located in communities throughout Texas are Baylor College of Dentistry, the College of Medicine, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, the Institute of Biosciences and Technology and the School of Rural Public Health.

— Marketing & Communications