Survey: Consumers are discontented, want to be engaged in care

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Nearly 40 percent of healthcare consumers have expressed discontent with the status quo, rating the U.S. healthcare system a “D” or “F,” and most want to be engaged in their care, according to the 2009 Survey of Heallthcare Consumers from healthcare research firm Deloitte Center for Health Solutions.

According to the Washington, D.C.-based organization, a nationally representative sample of 4,001 American adults, age 18 and older, was surveyed between Oct. 2 and 10, 2008, using a web-based questionnaire to provide a comprehensive view of healthcare consumerism in the U.S.

“The findings of this study suggest that growing numbers of consumers want to be actively engaged,” the report stated. “They see variance in service, quality and costs. They are comparing doctors, hospitals, medications, devices, health plans and self-remedies. They are exploring alternatives to conventional approaches and spending money to achieve their goals.”

The study’s framework reflects a broad-based view of consumerism in six zones:

  • Wellness and healthy living, including self-care and health management;
  • Information sources helpful in consumer decision making;
  • Traditional health services provided by medical professionals, hospitals and retail clinics, as well as prescription medications and medical devices;
  • Alternative health services sometimes described as complementary medicine;
  • Insurance coverage and other financial considerations; and
  • Opinions about healthcare reform.

According to the report’s conclusions, healthcare is a consumer market in that consumers find ways to navigate the complexities of the U.S. system by comparing service, quality and costs. Three in 10 switched medications in the past year and 38 percent who switched said they did so to save money. Thirteen percent of consumers visited a retail clinic this year and 30 percent said they would do so if it cost 50 percent less than seeing a doctor in a doctor’s office, the report found.

“Health cost concerns are changing behaviors,” the report stated. “A quarter of consumers have skipped care when they were sick or injured; two in five of those consumers have done so because they simply could not afford it, were not covered by insurance or thought the costs were too high.” The report also noted that 53 percent of consumers would like employers to be required to provide health insurance for employees.

Deloitte also reported that consumers want holistic care and resources to pursue wellness and healthy living. Seventy percent of respondents said they would participate in a wellness program if they were given financial incentives, such as a reduced insurance premium or monetary reward.

There is a desire among consumers to embrace innovations that enhance self-care, convenience, personalization and control of their personal health information, the report stated. Forty-two percent want access to an online personal health record connected to their doctor’s office and 65 percent are interested in home monitoring devices that enable them to check their condition and send the results to their doctor, according to the report's findings.

“Consumerism in healthcare is not a threat to stakeholders that recognize the value of connecting with end users, who ultimately drive demand for the goods and services sold in the U.S. healthcare system,” the report stated. “It is threatening only when stakeholders conclude that consumers are incapable of acting responsibly in their self-interest and are unwilling to take an active role.”

“Consumerism is a formidable force in healthcare, a defining characteristic between its past and its future that will impact every stakeholder’s value proposition and business models ,” the report concluded. “Consumerism is not a fad; it is a trend of enormous significance.”