Study: Even If Your Doctor Is a Dud, Most Likely You'll Stay With Him

I don't know about you but a doctor has to do something really bad (like miss a second cancer) for me to consider switching.  But a new study has found that patients with an existing relationship with a doctor in a lower performing segment of the marketplace "were no more likely to switch doctors than patients with higher performing doctors," according to

Other parts of the study found that patients with doctors ranked in lower performing tiers were more likely to switch health plans than other patients.

The Web site reports that many health insurers now rank their physicians into tiers based on quality and cost and provide financial incentives to members for choosing a doctor in a higher tier. These tiered networks are designed to promote competition and quality improvement among providers.

Research showed that, while patients selecting a tiered doctor for a first-time visit, patients were likely to "choose one ranked in the best performing or average tier, patients who had an ongoing relationship with a doctor in a lower performing tier were no more apt to switch than patients with higher ranked doctors."

Bad news for doctors judged not to be performing well. “These findings are economically important for physicians as these results correspond to a loss in market share of new patients for a doctor in the worse performing tiers compared to those in better tier rankings,” quotes the study’s lead author, Anna D. Sinaiko, Ph.D., research scientist in the department of health policy and management at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The study found a low amount of health plan switching and high degree of patient loyalty to physicians they’d seen in the past. In fact, patients with doctors ranked in the lowest performing tier were more likely to switch health plans than other patients. That may be due to patients feeling frustrated that their physician was in a low-ranked tier or unhappy about having to pay a higher co-pay to see their lower-ranked physician, the authors speculate.

“Our study underscores the loyalty that patients feel for their own physicians. Likewise, the fact that we observed an impact of tier-rankings on new patient visits also makes sense. Unknown physicians are more likely to be viewed by patients as [more] substitutable than are physicians with whom they already have a relationship," Sinaiko adds.


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