How to Compete in the Era of Doctor Shopping

Whether we like it or not, the era of doctor shopping has arrived. What began as a limited phenomenon just a few years ago will only get worse as we shift away from a fee-based medical system to one more heavily focused on patient outcomes. Medicine has, for better or worse, become a customer-oriented business. The task for doctors now is to figure out how to compete.

Clinical physician jobs are, as a general rule, divided into four categories:

  • Private practice ownership
  • Group practice partnership/employment
  • Hospital and clinic employment
  • Locum tenens practice.

The principles outlined below apply primarily to the first three categories. As Vista Staffing explains, locum tenens physicians are in a somewhat different situation because they are not competing for patients. Having said that, Vista Staffing says that locums can still glean helpful information from the tips below.

Consider Adjusting Work Hours

Doctor shopping consumers start with the basics. Before they ever look at online reviews, credentials, or reputations, they want to know whether your office can meet their practical needs or not. Believe it or not, it often starts with business hours. People want their doctors to be available when they have the time to schedule appointments. That is why it is becoming more common for doctors to offer evening and weekend hours.

It is also common in large and mid-sized cities to find walk-in clinics open all weekend. They are hoping to attract patients who either do not have regular doctors or whose doctors don’t have hours outside of the normal 9-to-5 routine.

Find Ways to Improve Scheduling

Nothing is more frustrating to a patient than calling the doctor’s office only to find that there is a four week wait. Understandably, a lot of the scheduling problems are the direct result of the doctor shortage. That cannot be helped. But it is also no secret that doctors’ offices, clinics, and hospitals are notoriously poor schedulers.

There are ways to improve scheduling if those responsible for making schedules are just willing to work at it. Even a 5% improvement would be visible enough to make a difference.

Treat Patients like Valued Customers

While it may be a little distasteful to doctors of the old order, competing in the era of doctor shopping requires treating patients like valued customers. For example, it is no longer enough to talk ‘to’ a patient in the office setting; doctors now have to talk ‘with’ patients. There is a significant difference.

Doctors who want to be part of the healthcare solution in the 21st century need to be willing to engage with patients as equal partners. Patients have every right to expect to be included in making decisions about their own health and care; they have every right to expect doctors and nurses to be upfront, honest, and transparent at all times. If that is not the experience they receive, they will shop around for a new doctor.

Switch to Locum Tenens Work

Doctors with no interest in competing in the doctor shopping arena do have another choice: switching to locum tenens work. Locum doctors are more or less insulated from the doctor shopping trend because they do not own their practices nor do they work for single employers. Instead, they are self-employed contractors that move from assignment to assignment.

Doctor shopping is the new normal. There is no way to stop it now that it’s started, so doctors have to make the best of it. Learning to compete in the same way the business world competes is the only way today’s doctors are going to keep up.