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Survey: "Top Docs" List Not Tops to Patients

md000613PHILADELPHIA – Contrary to the hype that surrounds the publishing of the annual ‘Top Doctors’ lists in metropolitan magazines across the United States, a recent study by The Melior Group, a Philadelphia-based research and consulting firm, indicates that the vast majority of consumers report a high degree of skepticism about how those lists are compiled, but consider the lists to be influential marketing tools for hospitals to showcase themselves.

For choosing specialists, consumers still rely primarily on more traditional sources, such as their physician’s recommendation (38 percent) and whether a doctor accepts their insurance (30 percent).  Only 10 percent of respondents reported that the ‘Top Docs’ rankings were of primary importance to them.

Strengthening this finding, 84 percent of consumers say they have never contacted a physician because he or she was listed as a ‘Top Doctor.’ And 74 percent are skeptical about how the ‘Top Docs’ lists are compiled.

“Today’s sophisticated consumers tap into a wide array of information sources to help them make their healthcare decisions, especially about which specialist to see when they need one.  They read about them, inquire among friends and family, and as part of that research they are aware that these lists are available to them as a resource,” according to Linda McAleer, president of The Melior Group.  “But the Top Docs lists may not hold as much weight in the final decision as we think.”

Dichotomy Exists – the ‘Top Doc Effect’
However, there appears to be a ‘spill-over’ effect with regards to Top Doc Lists, which we refer to as the ‘Top Doc Effect.’ More than 67 percent of consumers like the idea of using a medical practice that has access to “Top Doctors” even if the physician they see is not named on a Top Docs list – this is the ‘Top Doc Effect.’

Further, almost half – 45 percent – of those surveyed agree they would use a hospital they didn’t prefer to use, in order to consult with a Top Doctor practicing at that hospital.  “While the majority of consumers say they don’t read these lists or make decisions based on them, they are nonetheless influenced by the rankings,” said McAleer.

More than three-quarters (76 percent) of consumers agree that the Top Docs lists are mainly for marketing and advertising purposes for the Doctor/Hospital and are not a reflection of the Doctor’s skills and abilities.

“The Top Doc Effect should come as good news to physician practices and hospitals that use these rankings as a tool to differentiate themselves from the competition,” said McAleer. “Regardless of whether a consumer chooses to see that Top Doc or not, if they select that Top Doc’s practice, it is a win-win, by association.”

Additional good news for healthcare marketers is the finding that some types of consumers do look at the Top Docs Lists.  Consumers who use specialists (52% of the total sample) look at these lists at least occasionally or all the time (38%) and three in ten (28%) talk about the doctors on the lists with their friends or family. “These consumers may have a more pressing health need to gather as much information as possible and hence may seek information more actively,” says McAleer.

Other Survey Findings:

Top Docs Lists Seen as Marketing Vehicles — More than 75 percent of consumers surveyed agree that Top Doc Lists are mainly for marketing and advertising purposes for the doctor/hospital and are not a reflection of the doctor’s skills or abilities.

A Top Doc doesn’t have to practice at a Top Hospital – 57 percent of consumers do not feel that, in order to be named a Top Doctor, the physician has to practice at a Top Hospital.  These findings indicate that promoting their Top Docs seems to be an effective marketing tool to increase their physicians’ practices and use of hospital facilities even for hospitals that are not ranked at the top.

Opportunity for hospitals – To overcome consumers’ skepticism, and the belief that the rankings are more likely marketing vehicles for the hospitals, the institutions can legitimize these lists by explaining and/or promoting the fact that the rankings are based on the recommendations and endorsements of other physicians in the specialty, a fact that 51 percent of consumers polled considered to be important.

“It is likely that the Top Docs surveys will continue to be published and used as a marketing tool by doctors, hospitals and health systems,” said McAleer. “They have sufficient impact to be seen as valuable differentiators in a crowded healthcare market.”

The Melior Group, a Philadelphia-based market research firm, designed and implemented the web-based, national, 24-question survey of 355 consumer healthcare decision makers.  All respondents were adults aged 21 years and over.   The survey data was analyzed by age, gender, household income and whether or not the respondent was currently consulting with a specialist physician.  There was equal representation of individuals in income levels (below $50,000; $50,000 – $75,000; $75,000 – $100,000; and above $100,000) as well as by age (21-34 years; 35-44 years; 45-54 years and over 55 years.

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