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Women, Young People Inclined to Seek Health Care Information
Aim is to save costs, ensure quality

By Stephen Miller  2/18/2011

Among Americans, women, young people and those who experienced an increase in premiums or cost sharing are most likely to seek information on health care costs, quality and access in order to make informed decisions. Additionally, people with a high level of education are more likely than others to research information, according to research from the not-for-profit Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI). The analysis is based on the EBRI/MGA 2010 Health Confidence Survey (HCS), as reported in the February 2011 EBRI Notes article, “Who Tries to Find Objective Information on Health Care?

Survey participants were asked if in the past two years they had ever tried to find objective information about the following:

The costs of different treatments.

The advantages and disadvantages of different treatments.

The costs of different doctors and hospitals.

A doctor’s training, certification and experience.

The number and success rate of procedures performed at a hospital.

The number of disciplinary actions taken against a doctor or hospital.

The study found that:

Slightly less than half (45 percent) of the U.S. population reported having tried to find health information about the advantages and disadvantages of different treatments.

Only 14 percent tried to find information about the number of disciplinary actions taken against a doctor or hospital.

Just over a quarter (28 percent) tried to find the full costs of different treatments, while 24 percent looked for the costs of different doctors and hospitals.

“As companies shift health care costs to the individual, people are looking for ways to improve their quality of care while controlling costs,” said Paul Fronstin, director of EBRI’s Health Research and Education Program and author of the report. “They are researching information that will benefit them and help them make educated choices.”

Information-Seeking Motivators

Among other key findings from the HCS:

Demographics. People under age 45 were more likely than those 65 or older to try to find information about the advantages and disadvantages of different treatment options, the full costs of different treatments, the costs of different doctors and hospitals, and the number of disciplinary actions taken against a doctor or hospital. There is some evidence that minorities and low-income people are more likely to search for cost information than whites.

Health status. Individuals in (self-reported) fair or poor health were more likely to report that they tried to find information on the number and success rate of procedures performed at a hospital. Among those who reported that their health status had gotten worse during the past five years, about one-half (52 percent) reported that they tried to find information about the advantages and disadvantages of different treatments.

Health coverage. The uninsured were more likely than those with coverage to search for information about treatment and provider costs. Individuals not satisfied with their health plan were more likely than those who were extremely or very satisfied to try to find information about treatment costs and provider costs, and they were more likely to search for information about the advantages and disadvantages of different treatments.

Cost-shifting shock. Individuals who reported that they had experienced an increase in premiums or cost sharing were more likely than those not experiencing an increase to try to find information about the advantages and disadvantages of different treatments, doctors’ training and costs of treatments and providers.

EBRI advises plan sponsors to use these findings to foster better communication and engagement with workers and their families regarding the benefits of seeking health care cost and quality information.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Related Articles:

More Workers Seek Health Information from Employers, Plans, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, February 2011

Online Tools Help Consumers Make Cost-Effective Decisions on Drugs, Routine Care, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, November 2010

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SHRM Online Health Care Reform Resource Page

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