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Word-of-Mouth Is No. 1 Source for Finding Physicians

One in three adults switched doctors in the past five years

In the past five years, one in three US adults changed their primary care physician, according to research by the American Osteopathic Association.

The September 2013 study found that US internet users looking to make the switch relied on a traditional method of finding a physician—word-of-mouth. Around two-thirds of respondents said they turned to family, friends and co-workers for doctor recommendations, the No. 1 response.

Insurance provider directories were the second most popular source, cited by just over one-half of respondents. Other digital tools, such as physician rating websites, hospital websites and consumer review websites, ranked much lower.

Younger adults were much more likely to use word-of-mouth to find doctors, rather than relying completely on digital sources. Nearly eight in 10 18- to 29-year-olds relied on recommendations from contacts, compared with 64.6% of adults 30 to 49 and 59.8% of those 50 to 79.

One reason word-of-mouth may be the most popular source for doctor recommendations is that people still haven’t fully transferred health-related activities to the digital world. In a November 2013 study by Apigee, just 18% of US smartphone owners said a smartphone/tablet had “somewhat” or “completely” changed how they managed their health—which includes searching for physicians, among other things. On the other hand, nearly seven in 10 respondents said their mobile devices had “somewhat” or “completely” affected how they connected with friends.

Consumers who do go online to do health research aren’t usually searching for a physician. Kantar Media found that around one-third of US internet users looked for healthcare professionals when doing health-related research. Instead, respondents were more interested in researching conditions, symptoms or medications.

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