Do you know what patients really care about when choosing a spine surgeon?

Jeff Davis -  

In today's healthcare economy, more than ever we are seeing the rise of the patient-consumer. These are empowered consumers of healthcare services that are connected, informed, and take an active role in deciding who will deliver their healthcare.


Because of this, we have seen the increased importance of online reputation management. The most popular ratings sources (i.e. Healthgrades, Vitals, etc.) have created Yelp for Healthcare. And while Yelp has arguably become one of the most popular websites for finding great places to eat, is the dining experience the same as the spine surgery experience?


While the intent of these sources of information is to help provide patients an informed approach to choosing their healthcare provider, there remains questions of whether these websites have been able to capture the complexity of assessing performance in the healthcare setting. Should an internal medicine physician be judged on the same criteria as a neurosurgeon? This is not to feed into some type of implicit ranking of the different schools of medicine, but rather to acknowledge that the skills required to perform well in different disciplines are and should be different. Thus, the metrics we use to judge a healthcare provider's performance should also be different in respect to his or her area of medicine.


Patient Poll
On, the top-ranking and largest Musculoskeletal health website in the world, we conducted a poll on what patients consider the most important factors in choosing a spine surgeon. is the ideal website because of its over 7 million patient visits monthly, highly-engaged patient population, and strong SEO performance for key spine terms.


The poll was designed to determine if the current metrics used to evaluate healthcare provider's performance on the top ratings websites were providing the complete story when it comes to evaluating spine surgeon performance. The setup of the poll consisted of looking at all the metrics being used at the top ratings websites in addition to those we felt were more indicative of surgeon performance and patient concerns we see frequently in our patient forums.


Figure 1: If you are considering spine surgery, which things do you care about most in choosing your surgeon?


Poll Results
What we found is very insightful for spine surgeons. We received responses from 277 patients on that are currently considering spine surgery. We asked them "If you are considering spine surgery, which things do you care about most in choosing your surgeon?" Of the top five responses, a majority are included on at least one of the top ratings websites, but none are covered on all. The fourth highest ranking response (12.5%) is not listed on any rating site - "Long-term treatment/pain management plan put into place". This was an issue raised by many participants in our patient forums and illustrates the need for surgeons to ensure they develop a pain management plan for patients. It also may indicate the opportunity to proactively address a patient concern that would differentiate surgeons from their competitors.


Another interesting outcome was the strong desire patients have in wanting to know about surgical outcome performance (18.3%). This sheds light on the importance patients place on surgical outcomes and also identifies the opportunity that spine surgeons have to share their outcomes data to influence the decisions made by potential patients.


Top 5 Ranked Responses (n=277)
• Effective treatment / Favorable surgical outcomes (18.3%)
• Communicates well / Explains medical condition, symptoms, surgical, and non-surgical treatment options (17.7%)
• Ethical / Trustworthy (13.5%)
• Long-term treatment/pain management plan put into place (12.5%)
• Compassionate and sensitive (9.0%)


A surprising outcome was how few patients ranked "physician referral" (4.6%) in their top 5 choices. This is not to say that maintaining good relationships with referring physicians is not a good practice or strategy for spine surgeons. What it might indicate, however, is that patients are putting more stock in the individual performance of the spine surgeon and his or her ability to effectively communicate the patient's condition and treatment options. A lot of this is probably related to the fact that 77% of patients conduct an internet search prior to booking an appointment*. This may mean that even if a patient is given a referral from a physician, they are still conducting extensive research on that surgeon to ensure they agree with the recommendation of the referring medical provider. It would then seem that it is becoming more important for spine surgeons to establish their individual credibility as patients take a more critical and informed approach to selecting their surgeon—a shift in the traditional physician referral model.


In conclusion, it appears there is some merit to many of the ratings websites that currently exists. However, what really matters to patients might not be entirely captured by the criteria being used. While ratings systems may be well suited for healthcare fields such as internal medicine or dentistry, spine surgeons may need to do more to help patients understand their unique value outside of what the top ratings websites provide. Because patients are only able to choose what is presented to them by a rating scale, they are unable to communicate any concerns that fall outside of those preset parameters. This creates opportunities for spine surgeons to think creatively about getting in front of potential patients and informing them of their unique skills and abilities as a surgeon that may not be demonstrated accurately by a 5-star rating system.


Learn More
By offering the highest quality, physician-written and reviewed patient education information, Veritas Health has become the #1 resource for spine and orthopedic patients to get information about their conditions and treatment options. Because of this, Veritas Health has also become the preeminent platform for spine and orthopedic medical groups to market their services. For more information on how Veritas Health can help your medical group attract new, high quality patients or for a free marketing assessment, contact Jeff Davis at and follow him on twitter @jeff_VERITAS.


*Google/Compete Hospital Study [2012]


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