– Industry professionals must find ways to meet patient preferences by making healthcare navigation easier and more convenient, according to a recent survey from United Healthcare.
The survey of over 1,000 adult patients revealed that healthcare consumers are largely turning to online options for healthcare because of cost effectiveness and convenience.
Nearly 30 percent of respondents said they use the internet or mobile apps for healthcare research. Forty-five percent of respondents said they first turn to their primary care providers for health information, which is the only resource option that was ranked higher than online resources.
Some of patient research includes price comparison shopping, the survey found. Thirty-two percent of patients use online tools to price shop, and 80 percent of those individuals called the process helpful or somewhat helpful.
Although the use of online cost transparency tools is reportedly growing, patient knowledge about healthcare costs is still left wanting. While 71 percent of patients correctly acknowledged that cost of a provider is not necessarily correlated to quality of care, patients still largely underestimated the costs of their treatments.
Patients are also tapping digital tools to simplify the process of accessing treatment. Forty-two percent of patients said they were likely to use telemedicine to access care, a 5 percent increase for the 2016 survey results.
Patients are turning to telemedicine because of improved access, convenience, and lower costs, the survey revealed.
Despite this digital shift, patients still appear to value human touch in healthcare. Eighty-four percent of patients said they prefer to contact a live person during customer service inquiries. Only one percent said they prefer automated calls, and between two and five percent of respondents said they’d prefer online chat, texting, or emails for customer service.
All of these factors come down to a need to make healthcare navigation easier, UnitedHealthcare Chief Consumer Officer Rebecca Madsen explained.
“This survey highlights why UnitedHealthcare continues to develop new ways to simplify the health care experience and make it easier and more convenient for people to access care,” Madsen said in a statement.
“These survey findings will build upon our experience creating innovative ways to engage with customers and help them navigate the health care system,” she added.
Consumers also appear to need more patient education to help them work their way through the healthcare industry, the survey showed. Health literacy is lacking, for example.
Only nine percent of respondents could accurately define each of the four key healthcare terms survey administrators outlined. Sixty one percent of patients knew what a premium was, 62 percent knew what a deductible was, 39 percent knew out-of-pocket premiums, and 31 percent knew co-insurance.
Although that is a slight improvement from last year’s results (seven percent of respondents knew all terms), there is still room for improvement. Healthcare payers need to better educate patients about their health payer enrollment, despite the fact that 72 percent of respondents said they’re prepared for their next enrollment period.
Additionally, patients may need more education about the importance of wellness and how it connects to potential chronic conditions. Most respondents underestimated the role lifestyle choices play in premature chronic conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease.
Only 23 percent of patients recognized that 80 percent of premature chronic illnesses are connected to poor lifestyle choices, such as unhealth diet, drinking, and smoking. Thirty-five percent of patients said more than half of chronic illnesses were caused by genetics.
These results are intended to spur conversation between healthcare industry stakeholders, UnitedHealthcare said. Payers and providers must work to make the industry easier for patients to navigate by driving simplicity in care access and better patient education.
“This annual, longitudinal survey tracks consumers’ opinions over time, helping us to inform the conversation around how to make health care more affordable, accessible and easier to use,” UnitedHealthcare concluded in its survey report. “The data points are especially timely and relevant during open enrollment, the time each fall when Americans select their health benefits for the following year.”
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