Patients choosing a doctor rely far more on the advice of friends and family than on Internet directories, but when patients do search online, many are dissatisfied with what they find, according to a study released today.
While the Internet is "routinely being used as a resource for healthcare information," many physician directories "are not objective and are difficult to use," according to an issue brief summarizing the results of the survey. "Moreover, they frequently fail to meet the information needs of consumers or contain information that is old, inaccurate or incomplete."
The issue brief, "Finding Doctors in Chicago: A Project to Improve Online Physician Directories," was published by the Commonwealth Fund, which funded the survey, conducted by the Midwest Business Group on Health. The group looked at directories developed by a major Chicago health plan, two area hospital systems and the Chicago Medical Society and compared them against recommendations made by the National Committee for Quality Assurance for Internet-based directories of physicians.
Directory developers should pay attention to ease of use and navigation, build in sophisticated search and interactive functions, include content on physicians' practice styles and monitor the sites for currency and accuracy, according to the recommendations. Patients' top priorities were the physician's office location, health plan and hospital affiliations, and medical specialties. Years in practice, whether they were accepting new patients and board certification were also of high interest. Personal information, including photographs, gender, areas of personal interest, personal philosophy and medical school were deemed highly valuable as well. Short videos giving patients a "face-to-face" encounter with physicians were regarded as a plus.
The researchers gleaned data from 2,268 "pop-up" surveys taken by users of the Web sites of the four entities with physician directories, as well as focus groups attended by 38 consumers and 22 physicians.
More information about the project is available at the the Midwest Business Group on Health's Web site.