Technology Is Changing the Way People Get Answers to Their Health Care Questions

We’ve probably all – at one point or another – had an odd health symptom that sparked us to look it up online. After reading the “expert” opinions, you may have felt either relieved that you didn’t have a chronic health condition or convinced that you were suffering from a rare disease. If you can relate, you’re among the 68 percent of Americans who have used the internet to research a potential health symptom or issue.

According to the third annual UnitedHealthcare Consumer Sentiment Survey, which provides insights into Americans’ health care knowledge and preferences, more people are turning to technology to help answer their health care questions, evaluate symptoms and comparison shop for plan and care options.

When it comes to researching plans, the amount of time a person spends during this time of year can vary. While 42 percent of Americans with health benefits said they devote less than one hour to researching plans during open enrollment, 29 percent spend between one and three hours and 14 percent spend more than five hours, according to the survey.

Beside the cost of the health plan, many people consider the following to be important:

  • Whether the doctors they normally receive care from are in-network (67 percent); and
  • Access to vision and dental benefits (80 percent of respondents and 85 percent of full-time employees).

Once a person selects a health plan, the research doesn’t stop. In fact, more than one-third (36 percent) of respondents said they used the internet or a mobile app during the last year to compare the quality and cost of health care services, with millennials the most likely to do so (51 percent). Among all comparison shoppers, 84 percent described the process as “very helpful” or “somewhat helpful.” And, after comparing different options, one in 10 respondents said the research prompted them to change both the health care provider and facility for that specific service.

Technology serves as a beneficial tool for many during open enrollment season, and the numbers prove it. The survey found that an unprecedented 77 percent of people with health benefits said they are prepared for open enrollment, up 5 percentage points from a year ago. And, when it comes to accessing care, a growing number (43 percent) said they would be likely to use telemedicine in the future, a 6 percentage point increase from 2016.

“People continue to ask for resources to help improve their health and more effectively navigate the health system, so this survey underscores why UnitedHealthcare and other industry innovators must continue to invest in programs that make it easier for people to access care,” said Rebecca Madsen, chief consumer officer of UnitedHealthcare. “We hope this data helps spark innovation and continues UnitedHealthcare’s mission to help build consumer-centric health plans, engaging wellness resources and effective clinical programs that simplify the health system and assist people on their journey toward health.”