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Healthcare Consumers Interested in Technology, But Are Not Using it Now

Les Masterson, for HealthLeaders Media, June 23, 2009

Health insurers have spent millions on improving member outreach on the Web, but most people still don't visit their health plans' Web sites or believe their insurers support their health, according to The Microsoft Health Engagement Survey 2009, conducted by Kelton Research.

That sobering news is balanced, however, with some positive findings. Survey respondents are interested in their health plans connecting with them via e-mail and phone for electronic coaching, but they want those services integrated into their lives.

Dennis Schmuland, MD, U.S. health insurance industry solutions director at Microsoft in Redmond, WA, says healthcare must control runaway medical cost growth. One way to do that is to improve chronic disease care, which would decrease health costs. Two examples are to help members self-manage their conditions and create preventive programs for those who are healthy.

He adds the results show that health insurers cannot wait for consumers to self-manage their chronic conditions through standalone Web tools. Instead, patients want providers and insurers to come together to help them improve their health habits and self-manage their conditions.

This will require insurers to implement a "new generation of technology designed to proactively improve health and coordinate care at the individual and community levels," Schmuland adds.

Survey respondents were not exactly positive about the current healthcare system. A majority of those surveyed see the healthcare system as fragmented and believe it doesn't help them proactively manage their health. Those who share that view are more likely to search general health Web sites for information rather than seeking health information from doctors or insurers.

Schmuland says those who feel the system is fragmented tend to believe they are on their own when it comes to their health and healthcare.

Consumerism is driving online investments
The consumerism movement with insurers and employers pushing more out-of-pocket costs onto members has led insurers to invest in online components in hopes of creating more educated consumers. However, nearly half of those surveyed thinks health plans only support them when they need a doctor.

This disconnect is creating barriers. Consumers are simply not visiting their health insurers' Web sites. Though 82% of insurers provide Web sites with health and wellness information, nearly three-quarters of respondents visited their insurers' Web sites fewer than six times a year. That includes 16% who never visited their insurers' sites and another 16% who only went on the sites one or two times in the past year.

Schmuland says people usually trust their doctors, but insurers, advisory hotlines, and association Web sites don't enjoy the same level of trust.

"[Consumers] perceive the health plan cares about them only when they are sick," says Schmuland.

Those who are actually going onto the sites are not using the breadth of information either. Nearly half of those surveyed go to find provider lists or coverage information. Only one-third check out information on health and wellness.

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