The Missed Opportunity of Primary Care Providers' Online Biographies: a Content Analysis of US Health Systems in 2020

J Gen Intern Med. 2021 Jan 19;1-6. doi: 10.1007/s11606-020-06485-8. Online ahead of print.


Background: Prospective patients are increasingly going to health systems' online directories to find their next primary care providers (PCP), making this channel of communication important to assess to determine if it is meeting patients' needs. When seeking a new PCP, patients want to know not only educational credentials but also providers' communication traits, and personal information to showcase providers as real people. Offering this information, to help patients find providers best suited to meet their needs, is a key attribute of patient-centered care.

Objective: To analyze whether health systems' online PCP biographies are including the information prospective patients deem important when selecting a PCP.

Design: Using the AHRQ's Compendium of US Health Systems, 523 health systems' PCP biographies were content analyzed (n = 5004 biographies) from December 2019 to March 2020.

Main measures: Forty-eight unique pieces of information were coded for either their presence or absence (e.g., education, photo, languages spoken, insurance accepted, patient reviews, philosophy of care, video provided, personal hobbies/interests). Providers' alphabetic credentials (e.g., MD, DO, APRN) were also documented.

Key results: The majority of biographies stated the provider's medical education (83.6%) and included a photo (81.4%). However, information patients also desire (e.g., communication traits and personal information) were less prevalent. Only 33.7% listed languages spoken, 18.2% offered patient reviews, 14.4% had personal hobbies/interests, and 10.6% included a video. There were also 192 unique alphabetic credential combinations listed next to providers' names. Two health systems clearly included information within biographies to help prospective patients understand what these credentials meant.

Conclusions: Health systems could make simple changes to their providers' online biographies in order to help patients make more informed decisions of PCPs. Doing so may decrease doctor shopping, and also lead to a greater likelihood of developing longer-term relationships with PCPs.

Keywords: biographies; doctor shopping; health care systems; websites.