How People Search When They Search for Health Care

By Karl Ulfers | February 1, 2018 | Rally Health


Women want to see female doctors. Men don’t want to see any doctors — unless they’re having serious symptoms — and everyone wants to see doctors who have high star ratings. These are some of the top takeaways from our recent analysis of how people search for health care.

In a recent post, we examined what people search when they’re looking for health care.

But aside from “what” people search, it’s also important to analyze “how” they search. After patients click on a search link, how do they drill down on the results and what do their behaviors show?

To find out, we analyzed 4.9 million anonymous searches on Rally Connect® from 655,000 patients between January 2016 and July 2017. Rally Connect lets people find doctors, hospitals, and other care providers via a robust search tool that includes clinical quality, price, and star ratings. Users can also can see which doctors take their specific insurance coverage, along with their actual copays and deductibles. (And if they download our companion Rally Care (TM) app, they’ll even have their insurance ID card right there on their phone.)

All the findings are from patients using guided search, which asks users questions about their health care needs and concerns to guide them down a pathway. Our data showed that different demographic groups look for very different information when they search for health care,

Women want to see women doctors. Women filter search results to only female doctors 131 percent more often than men search for male doctors. Women obviously search more for OB-GYNs than men, but they also search 31.1 percent more often than males for endocrinologists, 17.2 percent more for imaging, 12.2 percent more for podiatrists, and 6.2 percent more for dermatologists. Thus, providers and payers should make it easy for women to find female doctors and make appointments with their top-searched specialists.

Men are looking for urgent care. How the men in our sample searched for health care seems to echo the findings of a recent Cleveland Clinic study that found that 42 percent of men make doctors appointments only when they fear they have an urgent, serious medical condition. According to the Rally data, men searched 29.6 percent more often than women for cardiologists, 14.5 percent more often for hospitals, and 12.5 percent more often for convenience clinics. These findings demonstrate that payers and providers should invest in programs that encourage men to make preventive care appointments.

Everyone puts stock in star ratings. Patients were 37.6 percent more likely to click on a provider with a five-star rating, compared with one with four or fewer stars. Our research also showed that premium providers are 42.8 percent more likely to have a five-star rating than non-premium providers. What’s more, users were 26.7 percent more likely to look at cost estimates for a premium five-star primary care physician, compared with non-premium five-star PCPs, showing that patients are well aware that “quality costs more” but do want to know what charges they’ll incur when seeing a premium provider. For payers and providers, it’s clear patients want easy access to the highest-rated doctors, with up-front information on how much these doctors charge.

Different generations have different search habits. It’s no surprise that young people have different health care needs than older folks, but how they search for services is also distinctive. By closely examining how generations search, payers and providers can tailor services to specific groups based on their age-based needs.

Millennials, many being young parents or looking to have kids, search 82.5 percent more often than the baseline average for OB-GYNs, and 44.4 percent more often for pediatricians. An encouraging statistic is that millennials search for primary care doctors 19 percent more often than the average, showing that young adults take preventive care seriously. Being busy professionals, they’re also looking for convenience, searching 19.9 percent more often for convenience clinics than the average baseline.

Many members of Generation X are parents with school-age kids and teens, so perhaps it’s no surprise that they search for urgent care clinics 20.6 percent more often than the baseline. Kids have less-developed immune systems, so they get sick more often than adults. This generation also searches for family doctors 3.3 percent more than the average.

Boomers are aging, are beginning to have some serious health issues, and are big consumers of medical services. They searched for orthopedic surgeons 68.5 percent more often than the average baseline, 58.2 percent more for cardiologists, 53.2 percent more often for internists, 39.1 percent more often for imaging, and 33.7 percent more for ophthalmologists.

For payers and providers, our data shows how critical it is to present search results in an organized and personalized way. When people visit a website or mobile app to search for doctors or services, they start with very general terms, such as “depression” or “dermatologist.” But they quickly want to drill down to find results relevant only to them. Women want women doctors at the top of their search results, and everyone wants to see the highest-rated doctors first. To avoid frustrating patients who find a doctor they want, only to realize she’s not taking new patients or isn’t covered on their plan, search results should include only in-network doctors or premium providers near the searcher who are taking new patients.

For patients, finding a primary care physician or specialist can be daunting. By knowing what people search for, and how they do so, payers and providers can tailor their doctor-search services to address patient needs.

Related: People Are Searching for Health Care, Just Not the Way You Think

Karl Ulfers is senior vice president of product at Rally Health. For more on cost estimation tools for hospitals and other health care providers please contact


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