- Patient engagement with their own health and health providers is markedly increasing, with more patients using health IT to improve their health and better understand their health payer plans, according to new data from UnitedHealthcare.
The payer’s third annual Consumer Sentiment Survey, which includes responses from 1,000 adult patients across the country, revealed that patient engagement in care and technology is at the highest it’s been since the group began its survey in 2016.
Seventy-seven percent of patients are reportedly prepared for fall’s open enrollment period, up 5 percentage points from last year’s data. Eighty-two percent of all full-time employees feel confident about open enrollment, the survey authors added.
However, not all patients feel well-positioned to enroll in a payer plan. Overall, 20 percent of consumers said they are unprepared for this year’s open enrollment period. Only 69 percent of millennials said they are prepared for open enrollment, a proportion significantly lower than other patients.
All of this comes as consumers spend a limited amount of time researching their payer options. Forty-two percent of respondents said they spend less than one hour researching plan benefits. Twenty-nine percent said they spend between one and three hours on payer research, and 20 percent said they spend more than three hours exploring plan benefits.
Plan members are also looking for more benefits when enrolling in health insurance, the survey showed. Eighty percent of respondents said access to ancillary benefits such as vision and dental insurance is important.
That number increased when looking at full-time employees, 85 percent of whom said ancillary benefits are important.
This indicates an overall consumer understanding that oral and visual health are linked to overall health, the survey authors said. Eighty-five percent of respondents said there is at least some connection between these three factors, while 53 percent said that connection is significant.
Patient engagement with health technology is also increasing, the survey found. For example, 36 percent of respondents have used technology to cost and quality compare shop for their healthcare; 51 percent of Millennials have comparison shopped using technology.
Of those who have used technology for comparison shopping, 84 percent said the process was very or somewhat useful, up four percentage points from the 2017 survey. One in ten comparison shoppers said they were convinced to select a new health provider or facility based on quality and cost data.
For those consumers who did not find comparison shopping helpful, 42 percent said it was because digital interfaces are confusing. Twenty-six percent of respondents said dashboards did not display key quality or cost information and 7 percent said tools were not customized for their health plan providers.
Beneficiaries are especially looking for access to quality information, the survey found. As 72 percent of respondents agreed that cost and quality are not always aligned, it becomes clear that understanding the quality of a service is essential to assessing for a good experience. Few patients believe that a higher price tag indicates better service, the survey authors explained.
Patients are also increasingly using technology to engage with their own health, the survey continued. Sixty-eight percent of all patients said they have used the internet to look up a set of symptoms. Among millennials only, that number increases to 83 percent.
Twenty-nine percent of all respondents said internet symptom searches increased patient anxiety about a condition, suggesting that more patients need access to a provider 24/7. Conversely, 23 percent of respondents said internet searches decreased their anxiety and 49 percent said searches made no difference in their anxiety levels.
Beneficiaries are also expressing increased interest in using health IT to access their providers, with nearly half (43 percent) of respondents saying they would consider using telehealth. This is up 6 percentage points since 2016, the survey authors stated.
Ultimately, these results show that the patient experience is trending toward digital. Patients increasingly use technology not only to learn about and connect with their healthcare benefits, but to manage and engage with their own care. Going forward, healthcare payers and providers should supplement their technology offerings to satiate consumer need.
“This survey shows people are embracing technology as an important resource to improve their health and more effectively navigate the health system,” Rebecca Madsen, chief consumer officer of UnitedHealthcare, said in a statement. “By creating resources to help simplify the health system and provide more effective clinical interventions, UnitedHealthcare is responding to people’s needs on their health care journeys, and we hope this data is helpful to others involved in supporting the health of all Americans.”