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Most patients find new doc online, via provider directories

While 46% of patients look online and at their insurance's provider directory to find a new doctor, fewer rely on referrals.

Patients are continuing to turn to online resources to find their doctors, with 46% saying in a new Harmony Healthcare IT poll that they are turning to Google search to find a new practitioner.

Another 46% said in the survey, which was completed by Prolific, that they use their healthcare payer's provider directory to find a new doctor.

These findings come as provider organizations continue to eye ways to build market share. Bigger market share means healthier bottom lines, which is crucial in a healthcare industry defined by slim margins.

Tapping into healthcare consumer behavior, especially when those consumers are selecting new doctors, is important for organizations considering their digital front doors and care access strategies.

Overall, patients are looking online when they're choosing a new provider, whether that be through online provider directories or Google searches. Another 42% of patients are looking at online provider reviews.

Far fewer are relying on analog care access strategies, like word of mouth (32%) or referral from another provider (29%).

Despite the entire internet at their fingertips, getting in with a new provider is an uphill battle, patient respondents said. Around a third (36%) said they don't think there are enough doctors accepting new patients in their area, while 46% said they don't think there are enough affordable doctors in their area.

Patients struggle the most to find a general practitioner, gynecologist, dentist, specialist and psychiatrist/therapist, the survey showed.

And these challenges in finding a doctor are getting in the way of patient care access. Around a third (34%) of respondents said they do not get an annual physical or check-up with a primary care provider every year; for Gen Z, this figure was 44%.

Six in 10 respondents said they skip their physicals because they haven't been sick, while 41% indicated physicals are too expensive. Annual physicals are covered under the Affordable Care Act, but there are numerous reasons a patient may still consider them unaffordable, such as a misunderstanding of health policy, the cost of taking time off work, the cost of transportation to a medical appointment or the cost of childcare during the medical appointment. To that end, a quarter (23%) also said scheduling an annual physical is too much of a logistical burden.

The survey specifically zeroed in on how patients search for a provider after they have moved. Citing figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, more than eight million people will move within the next year, the survey authors said. And when those people move, their healthcare options take a back seat.

Only one in 10 people consider where they will access healthcare when they decide where they will live, and 58% said they did not think about healthcare at all when they moved. Around 20% said they regret not doing more research about their healthcare options when moving, and 53% said they'd prioritize their healthcare access more the next time they move.

That tracks, considering the care access barriers people reported after moving. Around half (46%) of respondents procrastinate finding a provider when they move, and a quarter said they never found a primary care provider after moving.

The biggest reported barriers to finding a doctor after moving include insurance coverage, access to doctors who are accepting new patients, there being a doctor close by and patient compatibility with a new provider.

Even when patients can find a new doctor after they move, switching their doctors can be a hassle, the survey continued.

Around three in 10 (29%) respondents said they had difficulty transferring their existing medical records to their new doctor. Another 35% said they didn't know where to find all of their medical records, while 30% of parents said they don't have all of their child's health records.

As healthcare providers continue to strategize their consumer-centric care offerings, ensuring both adequate access to providers and data exchange might be key.

Sara Heath has been covering news related to patient engagement and health equity since 2015.

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