In a perfect world, it would be easy to flock to the doctors who produce the best health outcomes. There would be no need to theorize about the meaning of medical credentials on ZocDoc profiles. (Is a clinical internship in the former Yugoslavia a good or bad sign?)
In a recent study, Jason Fletcher of the University of Wisconsin attempted to create a value added metric for doctors who handled hospitalizations. He found that having a doctor in the 75th rather than 25th percentile could mean a 10 percent decrease in costs and a five percent reduction in the length of a hospital stay.
Unfortunately, while technology now allows us to know the Myers-Briggs score of every single person in a 25-mile radius, we still can’t easily determine which doctor is most likely to improve our health. There’s not much information out there when you’re choosing, and for people currently receiving treatment it’s impossible to know how their health would be different if they had chosen somebody else.
If people can’t choose a doctor based on performance, how do they choose? For those of us who live in towns or cities with more than one doctor, social networks are still important. But what about when people can’t get a recommendation? Or when they get conflicting recommendations? And what makes people decide to stay with a doctor after an initial visit?