Are Online Provider Reviews Poised to Replace Doctor Referrals?

By Sara Heath

– Online provider reviews might be replacing doctor referrals, further marking the shift to modern healthcare consumerism, according to a new survey from

In fact, patients are indicating that they want much of the healthcare experience to happen online, from finding their doctors to scheduling an appointment to reviewing their clinicians afterward.

Online transactions offer more convenient access to care, and as patients become more empowered in their healthcare – and bear more of the financial responsibility for it – they are looking for a consumer experience similar to those they get from other industries.

“Over the past year, we’ve observed a fundamental shift as patients turn to digital over traditional channels at almost every touchpoint of the patient journey,” Andrei Zimiles, the CEO of, said in a statement. “From discovery, evaluation, and selection to ultimately booking with a provider, patients demand the convenience and empowerment of digital information and tools to make their own healthcare decisions.”

The survey, which included responses from 1,600 adults, showed that patients are largely turning to digital referrals over the ones patients have long valued from their providers. Sixty-one percent of patients said they’d consult an online provider review when selecting a clinician, compared to only 30.6 percent who said they would heed their clinicians’ suggestions.

Nearly 90 percent said they will go online to do research about the doctors to whom they’ve been referred, showing a proactive approach to healthcare access. Fifty-three percent said they can’t find sufficient online information about their providers.

And that limited information can be detrimental, the survey showed. Half of all respondents said they’d choose not to see a provider if the provider’s online listings were incomplete or inaccurate.

When it comes to actually obtaining an appointment, patients want to go digital, too. Sixty percent of patients said they’d prefer to book a medical appointment online, up by 36 percent in 2018. Forty-eight percent of patients said they have chosen a certain clinician specifically because of the ability to book appointments online.

These results demonstrate an upward swing in the number of patients looking to engage with their healthcare digitally. The number of patients using a mobile device to search for providers increased by 50 percent since 2019, and the preference for mobile appointment scheduling has nearly doubled.

There has also been a 33 percent increase in telehealth access over the past year, the survey showed.

But healthcare hasn’t gone entirely digital, at least not yet.

Only 15 percent of patients said they have used voice search or artificial intelligence in healthcare, despite industry assertions that this technology will disrupt healthcare.

Nonetheless, healthcare organizations need to adapt to this increased digital preference. Patients are looking for a consumer-centric experience, similar to those they face when booking a hotel, flight, or making a restaurant reservation.

As these preferences continue to seep into healthcare, organizations need to respond.

“2020 marks a major turning point in which healthcare organizations and providers can no longer afford to neglect their digital patient engagement strategies and, instead, must make them a priority in order to protect their bottom line,” Zimiles said.

This push becomes even more salient when considering the emergence of non-traditional healthcare players – including the likes of Google, Amazon, and other consumer giants – in the medical space. Traditional healthcare organizations looking to remain competitive may consider adopting the patient engagement technology poised to drive consumerism in healthcare.

This trend is not exactly new, with many leading organizations across the country getting used to the fact that healthcare, and the patient experience especially, is going digital. For EHR vendor giant Cerner, this has meant integrating with third-party apps that deliver on this consumer experience. Cerner clients want to deliver digital to their patients, and these integrations help the company meet those needs.

And at provider organizations themselves, work to adopt and integrate patient engagement technology is front and center. As organizations seek to remain competitive in the healthcare market, these tech pushes will be critical.

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