Making a Match: 3 Reasons Patients Choose the Doctors They Do

Aha Media Group writer Teri Cettina switched roles, from health copywriter to patient, when she was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer in 2018.

When I was first diagnosed with cancer, the doctor in the ER gently handed me a piece of paper with a surgeon’s name on it. “This is the best pancreatic surgeon in our hospital system,” she told me. “If it were me, this is who I’d see.”

I was relieved and grateful for that referral. I was in such a state of shock that I couldn’t have reliably researched a surgeon for myself.

That surgeon was one part of my care team. Over the coming months, my husband and I had to find and research many other health specialists. Here are some of my “find a doctor” guidelines, as well as data on how your patients may choose their doctors.

Great Website Profiles Make the Difference

I often needed to go outside of my health system to seek out second opinions and specialists, so I relied heavily on online physician biographies and web articles. I was picky about what I read and saw, because I had written many physician profiles myself.

Aha Media even conducted a physician profile study in 2019 to determine what patients want in a doctor bio. You’ll see that the details that were important to me were also valued by our survey respondents.

The profile details that most caught my attention were:

  • Up-to-date photos: Images share a million quick details that a written biography can’t convey, such as the doctor’s gender, age and general demeanor. Call it “soft data” if you like, but it comforted me to know in advance what the doctor looked like.
  • Videos: I got great insights into each doctor’s personality, sense of humor (or lack of) and general attitude. I much preferred videos of the doctor doing an interview, or watching the doctor speak at a conference, rather than straight monologues into the camera.
  • Why the physician went into this field of medicine: Two of my best doctors mentioned in their bios that a beloved family member had died of pancreatic cancer. This was incredibly meaningful. I felt that these professionals would treat me as a person who mattered, not just a research case.

Other details that will help you write an amazing physician bio:

  • Specific training and numbers: I appreciated reading that one surgeon performed more than a hundred challenging pancreatic surgeries per month. I chose him over the local doctor who handled only a few hundred of these surgeries per year.
  • Personal details: They’re not just niceties! I really liked knowing that a doctor has two young sons, is an avid hiker or knits when they have time. I can see which doctors may have interests or values similar to mine. In case of a draw I tend to pick the doctor who has more in common with me
  • Insurance information: It was helpful to see upfront whether a particular doctor was on my insurance plan. Well-known hospitals/clinics that treat a lot of out-of-network and out-of-state patients also made it clear how to get referred to their facility.
In physician profiles, it's helpful to see upfront whether a particular doctor is on an insurance plan. Click To Tweet

Friendly Referrals Are Just as Important

Our research shows that many people (27%) choose a doctor because of a recommendation from friends or family members. So you’ll also want to:

  • Make sure your doctors are easily searchable: Most patients use a popular search engine like Google, so use SEO best practices and keywords to ensure that your doctors show up in search. (More on this in our blog post on writing the best physician profiles).
  • Be sure your “Find a Doctor” website tool is easy to find and use: And allow patients to use words like “oncology” and “cancer” interchangeably in their searches. As you know, many patients aren’t medical-language experts.
Research shows that many people (27%) choose a doctor because of a recommendation from friends or family members. Click To Tweet

Physician Profile Survey Results

Our 2019 physician profile survey respondents tended to feel the same way I did:

  • Photos: 50% sought out photos or videos of providers before making an appointment.
  • Chosen field of medicine: 21% said “understanding why they became a doctor” was one of the most important factors in why they selected them.
  • Training: Experience was the most important factor in choosing a doctor, followed by insurance information.
  • Personal details: 26% said that “sharing similar morals and values” made them more likely to schedule an appointment.
Experience is the MOST important factor to potential patients when choosing a doctor, followed by insurance information. Click To Tweet

Professional Referrals Are the Gold Standard

Sometimes, though, it’s not about showcasing your doctors so potential patients can find them. (And be impressed!) It’s about your providers talking with their current patients and making solid referrals for them.

As a patient, I felt most comfortable getting referrals from other doctors. My ER doctor’s suggestion of which surgeon to see was ideal. By saying “If it were me, this is who I’d see,” it was clear she knew and trusted this surgeon.

When a patient turns to your team for a referral to a specialist, they are placing their health and trust into the hands of your team. Help the patient — who is likely scared and overwhelmed — find the best care for their needs. You’ll build confidence and loyalty in your patients, because they’ll see that you are doing everything you can for their long-term health and well-being.

Help ensure that your team members are confident, trusted referrers. They should:

  • Mention personal or professional connections with the doctor: “This orthopedic surgeon handled my daughter’s injury and did a fabulous job.” Or, “I see Dr. Smith regularly at medical conferences, and I’m really impressed with her groundbreaking work.”
  • Limit referrals to one or two doctors: The ER physician helped me focus on a single doctor to see, rather than giving me a laundry list of possible candidates. It made my follow-up work much easier.
  • Ensure primary care providers (PCPs) maintain professional networks: Most patients trust their PCPs for referrals. I was greatly reassured when my family doctor seconded the pancreatic surgeon referral and also suggested a specific oncologist. It reassured me that she didn’t just scroll through a directory of doctors on my insurance plan.
  • Honesty is a good thing: My PCP told me upfront that the oncologist she suggested was “a little abrupt in his bedside manner but absolutely brilliant.” That heads-up helped me prepare for my first meeting. I knew that the oncologist wouldn’t be “touchy-feely,” and I was OK with that.

These strategies can help guide you, both when your team is doing the referring and when new patients are seeking out your providers. The goal is to ensure that your health system does its best work when folks need you most.

Learn Morehow to write physician bios

About Teri Cettina

Teri Cettina

Teri Cettina has written about financial issues, parenting and health for more than 20 years. She deftly handles both consumer-oriented and business-to-business content. Her byline has appeared in major newsstand magazines, including Real Simple, Reader’s Digest, Parents and Working Mother. Teri also creates strategic, d... More >