BLOG: ‘You need surgery’ may be the scariest thing we tell patients
Fear and anxiety are widely regarded as major impediments to patients scheduling surgery. They lead to delays that, in many cases, can exacerbate patients’ problems and negatively impact their quality of life. As surgeons, we can offer our skills and training to help our patients realize life-changing outcomes; but despite all our efforts to make our patients comfortable with surgery, fear and anxiety often dominate our patients’ decisions and prevent them from proceeding with surgery.
Consider that in 2014, 14 million Americans were diagnosed with knee arthritis. Seven million of these patients were considered eligible for a knee replacement, yet only 700,000 had the surgery. Overall, 90% of patients did nothing, other than perhaps treating their symptoms with a knee injection. Ninety percent of the market is unserved. That is a business opportunity for everyone in health care.
When patients are told they need surgery, 83% of them turn to the internet to research their options. While an incredible amount of information is only one click away, it overwhelms many patients. Rather than providing comfort, it paralyzes them.
The content on popular health care websites is easily misinterpreted, and review sites like Healthgrades and Vitals tend to skew toward the polar extremes of highly satisfied and highly dissatisfied patients. After struggling through confusing websites, patients usually turn to their friends and family for advice about a surgery or a surgeon. Unfortunately, they may not be lucky enough to know someone who has had that particular surgery with that particular surgeon, which often means these nervous patients do nothing. For a skilled surgeon, the key to helping these patients overcome their anxiety and selecting you as their surgeon may be the voices of your past patients.
Enter Reviews from Friends, a free patient-to-patient anonymous chat messaging service that connects new patients seeking information about a surgery, doctor, hospital and/or implant, with past patients who have already had that same surgery, doctor, hospital and/or implant. After the health care providers and/or hospitals upload their patient data, the HIPAA-compliant platform displays searchable patient profiles on the surgeon’s or hospital’s websites and allows new patients to anonymously ask questions and exchange information with these past patients.
Reviews from Friends does not display or share any identifiable PHI, patients’ names, emails or phone numbers on the websites or in chat messages. The anonymity on the platform protects everyone’s privacy while allowing meaningful exchange of advice. Patients have the option of linking their Facebook friends and Google contacts, which allows Reviews from Friends to identify “friends” in our search results. Advice from friends carries instant credibility because it comes from a trusted source.
In a recent survey of Reviews from Friends users, we found:
• 77% of those surveyed prefer to get advice about a medical procedure from people to whom they are connected (ie, their friends);
• 64% of those surveyed use Reviews from Friends to help guide their choice of a surgeon;
• 67% of prior patients registered for Reviews from Friends to share positive experiences;
• 53% of prior patients registered for Reviews from Friends to help their doctor; and
• 80% reported that learning about other people’s experiences with surgery makes them feel more comfortable about having a similar procedure themselves.
A good surgeon’s most treasured asset is his or her reputation. It takes years to develop because it is determined by the thousands of past patients in their community who sing the surgeon’s praises. Currently, surgeons just rely on chance encounters between their potential and past patients to spread their good reputation, but such an important aspect of their businesses should not be left to chance.
Reviews from Friends strengthens surgeons’ reputations by amplifying the voices of their past patients. A chance encounter is replaced with a network of thousands of your past patients willing to provide advice on demand from your website.
We live in an era of highly personalized content and the one-to-one nature of our chat platform means that the relevancy of information exchanged on our platform is greater than any found elsewhere. High relevancy equals high impact.
The information exchanged through Reviews from Friends increases comfort and reduces fear and has the power to influence decisions. In the case of the 90% of eligible patients who choose not to have a knee replacement, imagine the impact on your practice if you performed surgery on 10% of these nervous patients (for those readers who were told there would be no required math in this blog, that means doubling your current surgical volume).
In short, good surgeons should help their patients make better health care decisions by providing them access to their past patients. These patients will thank you by selecting you to be their surgeon.
William Kurtz, MD, is an orthopedic surgeon at Tennessee Orthopedic Alliance in Nashville. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.