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Patient Clinical Needs, Provider Skill Set Misalign 57% of the Time

Zocdoc has introduced a new Guided Search tool to address problems matching patient clinical needs to provider skill sets.

“It’s not you, it’s me.” For nearly three in five patients, the clinician they meet with is a bad fit for their current medical needs, according to new Zocdoc data, presenting a patient access issue across the industry that the online booking and provider search company is looking to fix.

Patient access to care isn’t just about getting a timely and convenient appointment on the books. Patients also need to see a provider who specializes in their specific healthcare needs.

But according to new Zocdoc data collected by Censuswide, that’s not happening for 57 percent of patients. The survey of around 1,000 adult healthcare consumers in the United States showed that patients aren’t visiting with a doctor who’s the “right fit” for their medical needs a little more than half the time.

Providers are feeling it, too, with 24 percent saying in a separate provider survey that they often see new patients who are not the right match for their medical expertise.

A poor patient and provider match carries with it consequences, including a poorer patient experience after the encounter. In some cases, a patient may need a referral to the right specialist or provider, requiring them to have another healthcare encounter. That could be a dissatisfier for any patient, but it could even be a care access barrier for those with limited funds, transportation, or ability to take time off work.

It makes for a poor patient interaction from the provider perspective, as well, with the clinician survey showing that providers think the top quality in a good patient interaction is their ability to treat the patient’s health concern.

Zocdoc aims to address this provider matching issue by introducing its Guided Search product. Patients can enter their symptoms or medical issues for which they seek treatment, plus their insurance information, and Zocdoc says it can churn up the “most relevant, in-network doctors for their unique needs.”

The company said the tool should take the guesswork out of determining what type of provider a patient should see, like a psychologist versus psychiatrist, for example. Zocdoc also said the tool can help patients learn more about provider scope of practice, which is an important topic for advanced practice providers like nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants/associates (PAs).

"We know that choosing the right provider is very important to patients, but far too often, that decision-making process can feel confusing and overwhelming," Oliver Kharraz, MD, Zocdoc founder and CEO, said in a statement. "We introduced Guided Search to give patients greater control, more confidence and ultimately peace of mind that they're selecting a provider who is able to see and treat them for their specific needs."

The tool has proven successful, at least in Beta phase. Zocdoc said the tool has increased search-to-booking conversation rates by up to 14 percent. Bookings for pregnancy care have increased by 100 percent, while bookings for dermatologists for cosmetic care have increased by 190 percent, and bookings for dermatologists for hair loss have increased by 200 percent.

Patients & Providers Misaligned Good Relationships

The Zocdoc/Censuswide survey also dove into the factors both patients and providers value in their relationships with each other, finding that they are not always on the same page.

As noted above, clinicians consider the most important quality in a patient interaction to be their ability to meet patients’ medical needs. But patients define being a “good patient” differently, saying the most important quality is being transparent about health history. This is true for only 5 percent of providers, the survey showed.

Patients and providers also have different red flags. For more than half of patients (55 percent), the biggest provider turnoff is poor communication; for half of providers (49 percent), the biggest turnoff is a flaky patient.

Still, that communication piece—which includes active listening—is critical for clinicians working to cultivate patient loyalty. Two-thirds of patients said they’d break up with their doctor if they felt like the clinician did not take their concerns seriously. Only 9 percent of doctors rated poor listening skills as a red flag.

But as healthcare consumerism takes hold, providers need to heed patient calls for good clinician listeners.

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