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More Workers Seek Health Info from Employers, Plans

By Stephen Miller  2/4/2011
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The number of U.S. employees who turn to their employer and health plan for medical information has increased sharply, according to a nationwide survey by the National Business Group on Health, a nonprofit association of large employers.

In addition, employees indicated that they were somewhat familiar with "comparative effectiveness research," which compares the clinical effectiveness of various health care interventions to determine the most effective course of treatment.

The survey found that:

75 percent of workers used their employer as a resource for medical and health information in 2010, a sharp increase from 54 percent in 2007.

69 percent rated their employers as completely, very or moderately trustworthy sources of health information.

Meanwhile, the percent of workers who relied on their health plan for health and medical information increased from 67 percent in 2007 to 76 percent in 2010. In addition, growing numbers of workers also relied on health-oriented websites while fewer workers sought information from doctor’s offices, published articles, prescription drug package inserts, pharmacists, and medical school, hospital and government websites.

“Employees face great challenges in navigating a complex, fragmented and hard-to-access health care delivery system,” said Helen Darling, president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health. “The amount of health care information that consumers need to sift through just to know what they should be doing seems endless and daunting. Our survey shows that workers want their employers to play a role in helping them access medical information about their health and how to make good treatment decisions from sources that are objective, trustworthy and reliable, such as the American Heart Association.”

Workers want their employers to help them
access medical information from
objective sources.

Using Comparative Research

According to the survey, a vast majority of employees are somewhat familiar with comparative effectiveness research, which can help doctors and patients know what type of health care works best by comparing the effectiveness of different health tests or treatments.

When asked how much they trust various organizations to conduct comparative research:

74 percent of employees cited nonprofit organizations focused on a specific illness as trustworthy organizations.

70 percent citied an independent panel of doctors and other health professionals.

61 percent cited a college, university or other educational institution.

“While employers now pay more than $10,000 per active employee annually for health care, they are not confident that these expenditures are truly improving employee health,” observed Darling. “As a result, they are now looking for ways to ensure that employees are receiving safe and appropriate quality health care, including care based on comparative effectiveness research. That, however, raises many questions employers need to address including how do employees currently make health care decisions and how do they evaluate which treatments are best for them.”

Among other key survey findings:

85 percent of employees looked for health care information about symptoms before visiting a doctor while 71 percent said they brought a list of questions to ask their doctor during a visit.

41 percent, however, indicated they were unsure how to discuss their concerns while 47 percent felt their doctors were rushed during the visit.

39 percent support incentives for using proven treatments vs. 16 percent who support penalties for using treatments that research has shown work less effectively.

The survey, Employee Attitudes Toward Health Information and Comparative Effectiveness Research, was conducted in mid-October 2010.

Stephen Miller is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Related Articles:

Consumer-Directed Health Enrollment Reached 22 Million in 2010, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, December 2010

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

Health Care 'Transparency': Advances Noted; Work Remains, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, October 2007

Quick Links:

SHRM Online Benefits Discipline

SHRM Online Health Care Reform Resource Page

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