Consumer Survey Signals 'Death' of the Referral


Patients' use of referrals has declined by 44% in the past year, and they now use an average of three different online sources to find a doctor, according to's annual consumer survey report. 

Meeting doctor recently released its annual "Customer Experience Trends in Healthcare" report, based on survey results of more than 1,600 U.S. adults.

The report details how patients prefer to conduct their healthcare journeys through resources they rely on to search for a provider, the criteria they use to select a provider, and other factors that influence their decision-making process, satisfaction, and loyalty.

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According to a news release, the "Customer Experience Trends in Healthcare 2020" report uncovers several key themes:

  • The "death" of referrals is imminent: Patients now prefer to use online resources like search engines and reviews, two times more than they use traditional referrals to find a doctor.

  • Reviews are a permanent fixture in the patient journey: Eighty-eight percent of patients will go online to read reviews about a provider they've been referred to. Patients ranked ratings and reviews as the most important factor when making a doctor's appointment, with referrals coming in second.

  • Listings accuracy = practice growth insurance: Half of all patients will decide not to see a provider if he or she has inaccurate or incomplete listings information on the web.

  • Rise of mobile health "shopping": The preference for using a mobile device to search for a provider has increased by 50% this year, and the preference for mobile appointment scheduling by browser or app has increased by 92%. There's been a 33% uptick in telehealth visits this year, the release says.

  • Voice AI search in healthcare is lagging: Only 15% of patients report they've used an AI voice assistant to search for a provider.

  • Digital appointment scheduling is the new standard: The majority (60%) of patients prefer digital scheduling options over a phone call (a 36% increase from 2018). Almost half (48%) of all patients have chosen a doctor based on their ability to schedule or reschedule an appointment online.

"Over the past year, we've observed a fundamental shift as patients turn to digital over traditional channels at almost every touchpoint of the patient journey," says Andrei Zimiles, CEO of "From discovery, evaluation, and selection to ultimately booking with a provider, patients demand the convenience and empowerment of digital information and tools to make their own healthcare decisions. 2020 marks a major turning point in which healthcare organizations and providers can no longer afford to neglect their digital patient engagement strategies and, instead, must make them a priority in order to protect their bottom line."

For a copy of the full "Customer Experience Trends in Healthcare" report, please visit:

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