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More Workers Want Control of Health Care Destiny
 

By Kathy Gurchiek  12/10/2007
 

U.S. workers of large employers prefer a more collaborative role with medical professionals, such as doctors and pharmacists, when making health care decisions—a change from the “just fix me” attitude of years past, a new survey finds.

More than 70 percent of 1,558 workers think patients have a responsibility to learn about the costs for treatment options and make an effort to verify that a recommended treatment is necessary. Even more think their employers should be involved in providing them with health information.

Findings are from an online survey conducted in September 2007 with employees age 22 to 69 who work full- or part-time for an organization with at least 2,000 employees. All were insured through an employer- or union-sponsored health plan.

“The most important person in the health care equation is the patient, the consumer,” said Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health, during the release of that group’s findings Dec. 5, 2007.

“That’s really new,” said Darling, whose group was surprised by how positive the findings were.

“It’s been mostly physician-centered care” up until the past decade or so, when the prevailing attitude, she said, was you saw a doctor to “get fixed and [then] you go about your business.”

The days when patients relied on their physician to make medical decisions for them are long gone. Faced with making a decision about treatment, 90 percent of those surveyed prefer to consult sources beyond their doctor, the survey found.

“Ten years ago, you wouldn’t see results like that,” Darling said.

Employees most want to know about the medicine—what it’s for, what it does, possible side effects—and detailed information about any treatment options, with 78 percent wanting to collaborate with their doctor in their treatment decisions, the survey found.

Rx: Information

Increasingly, people want to be able to make informed health care decisions, but the difficulty in understanding medical information can be a stumbling block.

Fifty-three percent of workers think that the available medical information is too difficult for the average person to understand, although they also don’t think that’s an excuse to trust their doctor blindly.

“Patients are often faced with daunting choices when confronted with a health treatment decision,” Darling said in a press release.

Nearly three-fourths of those surveyed have turned to their doctor’s office for health information since 2005.

They also use Internet web sites (68 percent), their health plan (67 percent), friends and family (66 percent), the media (61 percent) and pharmaceutical package inserts (59 percent) as information sources.

“In many cases, employers can help their workers become more engaged consumers by providing access to trustworthy, authoritative sources of medical information,” Darling said.

Slightly more than half have used their employer as an information source by utilizing employer-provided links to web sites of medical professionals, medical schools and hospitals, the survey found.

More than half of workers surveyed say they have not seen any health care quality comparison information, and, of those who did, most didn’t use it to select a plan or provider. However, not all employees have a choice of health plans, Darling pointed out.

Employer as Conduit

The expectation that the employer should serve as a conduit to health information is a change from years past, when the employer’s role was largely to pay the medical claims, Darling observed.

In addition to pointing employees to medical information, employers should reinforce the impact that lifestyle changes can have by providing online access to medical information and reinforcing the importance of behavioral changes, Darling said.

Employers also step in by providing tip sheets, question lists, coaching and other programs, such as rewarding healthy lifestyles with discounts on insurance premiums, she added.

If they had a condition that could be treated through lifestyle changes or medication, slightly more workers at large organizations would pursue both courses simultaneously than solely making a lifestyle change (48 percent vs. 43 percent, respectively).

And older workers are more likely than younger workers to prefer a newer treatment.

Lifestyle changes, Darling said, can help prevent disease, injuries or disabilities; avoid a repeat of a health problem; accelerate recovery and avoid related secondary health problems.

“If we can get people to stop making themselves sick” because of poor lifestyle habits, Darling said, “they won’t need to go to the doctor but once a year.”

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at kgurchiek@shrm.org.

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