Faced with the choice between going to a conveniently located doctor’s office or a more qualified physician, group health plan members are four times more likely to embrace the better-perceived medical professional.

“Traditional metrics like patient ratings, prescribing rates and volume of patients seen were not nearly as compelling to respondents as more qualitative, contextualized statements about a doctor’s clinical expertise,” according to Nate Freese, senior director of data strategy at Grand Rounds, a healthcare service provider for employees in need of local and remote specialty care.

The data is based on a study of 1,100 members covered by Grand Rounds, which is headquartered in San Francisco.

Bloomberg/file photo

While surprising, Freese says that result depends on the information and messaging that’s provided to employees. Just 14% of respondents based their choice on clinical expertise if they saw traditional physician profiles, whereas it was 69% if they saw contextualized profiles. Contextualized profiles offered more information in complete sentences compared to traditional profiles. These profiles also compared data against other doctors and specialists, such as appointment wait times, expertise and patient satisfaction.

Freese is encouraged by these findings, which were recently presented at the National Healthcare Ratings Summit. “Don’t sell employees short in terms of their ability to appreciate quality and willingness to sacrifice convenience,” he says.

Offering more subjective interpretation of hard quality metrics would be helpful, Freese explains, as long as employers and their advisers are careful not to “overstep what can be reasonably inferred based on available data.”

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Another caveat to consider is that finding high quality providers may not be inherently more difficult in narrow networks. Rather, he says, the issue is when health plan members “lack the ability to identify them. And so, it’s more about presenting information in the right way.”

Providing compelling quality information can achieve the same results of a narrow network, he notes. But he hastens to add that even narrow networks must be sufficiently broad enough for members to have a reasonable amount of choice. Geography also plays a role. “You could be in the broadest network, but by virtue of where you live, have reduced choice,” he says.

Michael Hough, executive vice president and U.S. founder of Advance Medical, believes the quality metrics that are currently available are insufficient for several reasons. “We’re looking at things like frequency and whether the outcomes are horrible,” he says. “But just because the outcomes weren’t horrible doesn’t mean they were good, either.” Desired outcomes depend on what’s going on with patients and whether their objectives are being achieved.

The context of care is “extremely important,” Hough explains, noting the importance of relationships between the patient and a trained physician based on human interaction, as well as the delivery of services. Also, while he believes the rise of telemedicine and self-service “is good for many parts of our lives,” Hough cautions that it’s not necessarily true for healthcare because meaningful relationships trump convenience.

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