I Love My Doctor!

The Role of the Patient-Physician Relationship in Marketing Healthcare   

Editor’s Note: This is a first look at findings from our recent omnibus study that examines the patient/provider relationship. Also read our latest post for a full analysis and download the report, Commitment to the Patient/Provider Relationship.

Many of our health system clients have begun to investigate more deeply the patient-physician relationship—a relationship that is complicated, multi-faceted and, for many, vitally important. For example, we’ve uncovered information people rely on when selecting a new provider, the most appealing characteristics of a physician’s practice and aspects of the patient-physician encounter that matter most. These studies are important given an employed primary care provider’s critical role in referring patients to a health system’s specialty care, leveraging the power of a system’s EMR capabilities and improving employed providers’ HCAHPS scores.

Market Strategies’ most recent self-funded omnibus study, which just came out of the field, is deepening our understanding of the patient-physician relationship. Using a short battery of carefully crafted questions (see box below), we are learning how the depth of these relationships impacts physician loyalty. We plan to share findings with our clients and anyone else who is interested in strengthening their customer experience strategy.


Measuring Loyalty

Our physician loyalty measure is calculated based on responses to four questions. In short, we assess how much the relationship matters, satisfaction with the relationship, perceptions of the value of the relationship and just how good the physician is. When combined, we can offer insights into how an organization can increase loyalty. For example, is it that people:

  1. Just don’t care about the relationship?
  2. Aren’t satisfied?
  3. Do not perceive any value in the relationship?
  4. Think their doctor is just one of many?

Pinpointing where there is a fracture in the relationship can help guide the development of an intervention, training program and messaging strategy.


We plan to release findings from this new healthcare market research soon. We’ll share how the nature of one’s relationship with a physician is impacted by a variety of demographic and environmental factors to answer questions like:

  • Is the relationship impacted by health system affiliation?
  • How does the type of chronic condition impact attachment to a physician?
  • Are demographic factors like age, education and income important in assessing the ‘stickiness’ of the patient-physician relationship?

We look forward to sharing these results once our analysis is completed. In the meantime, here is a snippet to tease you. We asked consumers to tell us how satisfied they are with their physician and to use one word to describe their physician.

We took a quick look to see if these one-word descriptions differ based on our satisfaction measure. First, we coded scores of zero to six as unsatisfied and marked scores of nine and ten as satisfied. Then we organized the two sets of words to create these word clouds. Sometimes, simple is better as results are dramatic.

Satisfied Consumers

Dissatisfied Consumers

As you can clearly see, satisfaction matters. People happy with their physician are likely to describe them as caring, thorough, knowledgeable, compassionate and great. Tip to the other side of the satisfaction scale and the story changes. While there are still a number of people who use caring and knowledgeable, dissatisfied consumers also describe their physician as uncaring, expensive, absentminded, unsure and even criminal! It is probably not too much of a stretch to predict that these dissatisfied consumers would be more willing to ignore their physician’s advice or seek out a new physician.

As mentioned above, we will release full findings of our investigation into the patient-physician relationship soon to help inform your healthcare marketing strategy. If you’re interested, email me, and I’ll make sure you receive a copy of our findings.

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Jack Fyock

About Jack Fyock

Jack Fyock is a senior vice president in the Healthcare research and consulting division of Market Strategies International. A social psychologist, Jack has directed many innovative projects in formative research, communications research, message development and program evaluations. He has extensive experience in Medicare communication research and has published work in the Health Care Financing Review, a peer-reviewed journal, related to beneficiary perceptions of the Medicare program as well as on beneficiary reactions toward healthcare delivery. Jack received his bachelor's degree from Randolph-Macon College and his master's and doctorate degrees in social psychology from the University of Maryland at College Park.

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