April 1999 Bulletin

Why public doesn't use orthopaedists

Surveys disclose views of physicians, patients, consumers

Do you know how your patients view you or your profession? What's really important to them? What's important to you?

Two surveys conducted for the Academy's Public Relations Task Force have revealed eye-opening insights on public awareness of orthopaedics and the convergence and divergence of perceptions by orthopaedists, their patients and the public.

A mail survey of 700 Academy fellows and a telephone survey of 400 consumers will provide the foundation for a major program being developed by the Task Force to educate the public about what orthopaedists do and how they help the public, and to differentiate orthopaedists from other health care providers. The surveys were conducted by Opinion Research Corp. and coordinated by the Academy's marketing department.

The response to some questions clearly validates the need for a program. When asked, "what is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of an orthopaedist," 44 percent of consumers said, "bone/joint surgery," but 20 percent said, "don't know." Forty-nine percent of consumers associated orthopaedists with the prevention and treatment of conditions of the bone, muscles and joints, but 32 percent didn't know.

Only 33.9 percent of consumers said they would see an orthopaedist if they had a broken bone; 29.3 percent, knee pain; 28.7 percent, sports injuries; and 22.6 percent, tennis elbow.

This would not surprise the orthopaedists in the survey who were asked to check all of 11 possible reasons that could be obstacles limiting their access to patients. Forty-five percent selected "patients are unfamiliar with orthopaedics" as an obstacle.

More orthopaedists-57.1 percent-checked off "insurance restrictions," 48.7 percent selected patients' "fear of surgical intervention" and 44 percent believe primary care physicians are referring patients elsewhere.

The surveys provided significant information about the perceptions of orthopaedists, patients and consumers. Most orthopaedists (88.4 percent) said it was very important to them that patients associate "successful medical results" with orthopaedists. Almost 71 percent selected "level of medical training" as very important and 75 percent said, "physician of choice for musculoskeletal surgery."

When orthopaedic patients were asked what was most important to them, a different ranking appeared. More than 88 percent rated "listen to patients" as very important to them, followed by "level of training" (87.6 percent) and "accepts insurance" (85.9 percent).

And when consumers-patients and nonpatients-were asked how they would rate orthopaedists in various categories, 36.8 percent gave the highest ratings to orthopaedists' "level of medical training." "Prestige of specialty" was second with 33 percent of the "excellent" ratings. Almost 20 percent of consumers gave the highest rating to "successful medical results."

The perceptions of orthopaedists and of consumers converged when the surveys probed important "high tech" characteristics. Almost an equal number of orthopaedists and patients gave the highest rating of importance to "successful medical results," 88.4 percent and 88.2 percent, respectively. Eighty-seven percent of patients and 70 percent of orthopaedists gave "level of training" the highest rating.

The gap between the perceptions of orthopaedists and patients widened when the survey probed "high touch" areas. Fifty-six percent of the orthopaedists thought "listen to patients" was important to their patient, but far more patients-88.5 percent-gave "listening" the highest rating of importance.

Only 24 percent of orthopaedists thought "ease of scheduling" was _important to their patients, but 68.8 percent of patients gave "ease of scheduling" a high rating.

The study revealed that surveyed-orthopaedic surgeons believe they do better in the "high touch" areas of "listening to patients" or "spends time with their patients" than all other orthopaedists. Eighty-six percent of the orthopaedists in the survey expected to receive the highest rating for "listening" from their patients. However, only 21.3 percent of the survey respondents believed all other orthopaedists would get "excellent" or "very good" ratings from their patients for "listening."

Ratings for "spends time with their patients," "caring and compassionate" and "easy to schedule an appointment" showed similar disparities of how surveyed orthopaedists viewed themselves and their peers.

The Task Force, headed by S. Terry Canale, MD, Academy first vice president, will present the public relations plan to the Board of Directors this spring and, following approval, will begin the development of the program for an official launch at the Annual Meeting in Orlando, Fla. in February 2000.

Orthopaedists, patients rank what's important

Successful medical results


Level of medical training


Listening to patients


Spending enough time


Ease of scheduling Appointment


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