Satisfaction with Doctor Visits on the Rise

Patients continue to show a strong desire to communicate online with health care providers, even as access is rising

Jan 20, 2016, 05:05 ET from The Harris Poll

NEW YORK, Jan. 20, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- Doctors' visits aren't typically a favorite activity for most, but their importance is unquestionable. As health care models continue to morph, the marketplace is continually changing. Patients now have more choices than ever as to where and how they interact with their health care providers, so satisfaction is an increasingly important measure. Among those who have visited a doctor's office in the past year ("patients"), 88% (up 5 points from 2012) report they are satisfied with their last visit; notably, over half (53%) state they are very satisfied.

Satisfaction appears to rise with age, as very satisfied ratings increase from 47% among Millennials (age 18-35) to 69% among Matures (ages 70+). From an ethnicity perspective, Whites and Blacks are significantly more likely than Hispanics and Asians to say they are very satisfied with their last health care experience (54% & 57% vs. 43% & 39%, respectively).

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,368 general population U.S. adults, along with representative oversamples of 511 Hispanic Americans (interviewed in English and Spanish) and 179 Asian Americans (interviewed in English), surveyed online between September 9 and 17, 2015. Full results of this study, including data tables, can be found here.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Americans identify several other experiences where they've had higher levels of satisfaction:

  • Very satisfied ratings for a medical visit rank behind Americans' last online purchase (71%), last restaurant visit (65%), and last visit to a bank (61%).
  • Satisfaction levels for a doctor's visit are more on par with Americans' last stay at a hotel (52%), and last car purchase (50%).
  • Americans are much more likely to say they're very satisfied with their last doctor's visit compared to their last interaction with a health insurance company (31%) or their last visit to a mobile phone store (28%).

Elements of satisfaction

Many factors can contribute to a positive experience at a doctor's office, with the doctor's overall knowledge, training, and expertise topping the list – 83% say this is very important. Majorities also rate the doctor's ability to access overall medical history (65%) and time spent with the doctor (58%) very important, and many say the same for several aspects of communication: ease of making an appointment (49%), efficient and simple billing process (45%) and ability to communicate with the doctor outside of an appointment, either by phone or email (44%).

  • Matures are particularly likely, compared to the two youngest cohorts, to say the doctor's ability to access their overall medical history is very important (75% vs. 66% Gen Xers & 58% Millennials).

One of the often-dreaded aspects of visiting the doctor – the time spent waiting – is a very important factor for 43% of patients to ensure a positive experience. The least important aspects are convenience of the doctor's office location (40%), minimized paperwork (32%) and appearance and atmosphere of the doctor's office (31%).

Access to online services increases, but not enough

Doctors' offices are clearly enhancing patients' opportunities to interact with the offices online. Since 2012, the number of patients who say their doctor offers a particular online communication service has increased across the board. Most notably, one quarter (25%, up from 17% in 2012) of patients now indicate they have online access to their medical record, including doctor visits, prescriptions, test results and history. Email access to doctors has grown as well, from just 12% of patients indicating they had access in 2012 to one in five (19%) today.

But while access is moving in the right direction, there are still far more patients awaiting these enhancements. Six in ten patients (59%) say they don't have online access to their medical records but rate it important, and roughly half say the same about being able to reach their doctor via email.

This holds true for other tested services as well, including:

  • Proactive communications from doctors to schedule preventative care appointments via email or text (16% have the service; 59% believe it's important to have),
  • Online appointment setting (17% have; 52% important), and
  • Online billing and payments (15% have; 50% important).

The largest gap between access and perceived importance is for an online cost estimator that provides average costs for specific services, which is available to less than one in ten (7%) patients but important to over six in ten (62%).

Retail for some, not all

When asked about their likelihood to use a retail health care provider – like a drug store, urgent care facility or walk-in clinic – for various ailments, Americans' interest depends on the medical need.

  • Majorities are likely to use a retail option for getting a flu shot (62%) or seeking care for cold or flu-like symptoms (54%).
  • Nearly half of adults indicate are likely to use one of these options to treat a cut or puncture wound, or a rash (49% each).
  • Four in ten are likely to get a checkup for high cholesterol or blood pressure (46%) or get screening or lab services (46%) in such a setting.

On the other hand, majorities of Americans are unlikely to turn to these types of providers for a regular checkup for a chronic condition (67%), for a wellness visit (60%), to get an x-ray (59%), or to treat a flare-up of asthma or high blood sugar (55%). Likelihood levels, or lack thereof, have stayed largely consistent since 2012.

That's not to say all Americans feel the same way. With the exception of getting a flu shot, majorities of Matures (those ages 70+) are unlikely to use a retail health care provider for any ailment. 

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This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between September 9 and 17, 2015 among 2,368 adults (aged 18 and over). Additionally, oversamples were collected in English and Spanish among 511 Hispanic (representing Spanish-dominant, English-dominant and Bilingual profiles) respondents and in English among 179 Asian respondents. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online. 

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #4, January 20, 2016
By Allyssa Birth, Senior Research Analyst, The Harris Poll

About The Harris Poll®

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SOURCE The Harris Poll