Patients are morphing into health care consumers with growing use of technology for medical shopping and health engagement, according to a survey conducted by Altarum, the health services research organization.
Virtually all (99%) of U.S. health citizens want to play a role in medical decisions about their care. However, consumers vary in just how much of that responsibility they want to assume:
- 35% want to make the final decision with some input from doctors and other experts
- 29% want to be completely in charge of their decisions
- 28% want to make a joint decision with equal input from their doctor
- 7% want their doctor to make the decisions, providing some input themselves
Just 1% want the doctor to be completely in charge of treatment decisions.
The cost of care is an issue consumers are keen to know more of in health care. Altarum asked consumers about two health behaviors when receiving advice or services from a health provider — looking for information about doctor quality ratings before choosing where to go, and asking before a visit how much the cost would be. Overall, fewer than half of consumers asked about prices (42%) or investigated quality before receiving the health service (39%).
Importantly, engaging in these two behaviors was less likely among folks who were in poor/fair health than those in excellent health, with 29% looking for quality information on providers and 34% asking about cost — compared with 62% of people in excellent health asking about quality and 60% asking about cost.
The survey found, consistent with other polls, that most consumers trust and like their doctor. Furthermore, 76% of consumers also believe that their doctor would “never” recommend a test or procedure unless it was necessary.
What’s concerning in Altarum’s findings is that the poorer a consumer perceives his or her health to be, the less empowered that individual feels. While 75% of those in excellent health say they’re confident they can reduce costs of care by shopping for better prices, only 30% of those in poor/fair health are confident in doing so. Thus, 70% of those in poor/fair health are uncertain/not at all confident that they’ll be competent health shoppers, able to reduce their health costs. Yet it’s those in poorer health who tend to be higher cost patients.
While several entrepreneurial companies are positioning themselves to play starring roles in shedding light on prices and quality in health care — such as Castlight Health, Change:Healthcare, Clear Health Costs — it is unclear whether their business plans are positioning them to serve the sicker, less health literate population. This is a key issue for policymakers to target.