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UnitedHealthcare survey shows more consumers are turning to technology

A record number are using the internet or mobile apps to comparison shop, and among those who do, 39% have changed their provider.

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

Technology is playing a greater role in the open enrollment process and 39% of consumers welcome telemedicine, but more than half still want to speak with a live customer service representative for questions or to resolve an issue.

For nearly half of respondents, 46%, to a recent UnitedHealthcare survey, a healthcare professional, such as a doctor or nurse, is usually the first source of information about specific health symptoms or ailments, followed by the internet or a mobile app for 20% of respondents.

When it comes to help with a question or to resolving an issue with their health plan, 66% preferred speaking directly with a customer service representative and 10% preferred a self-service option through an app or online.

These are the some of the findings of UnitedHealthcare's fourth annual consumer sentiment survey released today.

WHY THIS MATTERS

The UnitedHealthcare Consumer Sentiment Survey survey helps to inform provider and insurer decision-making, especially during open enrollment season, which starts in most states on November 1.

The survey tracks consumers' opinions over time to show changing attitudes and opinions around open enrollment preparedness, technology and transparency trends and health literacy.

THE LARGER TREND

Providers and payers have long known the importance of consumer engagement in their healthcare strategies.

Another survey released in June shows consumers want convenience from their healthcare system. Both patients and physicians are eager to embrace new technologies that improve their engagement and offer that convenience.

THE UHC FINDINGS

More consumers are turning to technology to comparison shop and access care, but few know the cost of their prescription medications.

A survey-record 37% of respondents said they had used the internet or mobile apps to comparison shop for healthcare during the past year, compared to 14% in 2012. Among those who comparison shopped, 39% said they had changed their facility or care provider or both, as a result. Millennials were the most likely to use comparison shopping resources.

Just over 10% of respondents who take prescription medications say they always know the cost of the drugs before leaving the doctor's office. A majority, 64%, said they never know the cost of the medications before leaving the doctor's office; 21% said they sometimes know this information and 11% said they always know the price.

Thirty-nine percent said they would likely use telemedicine in the future to access care, a 2% increase from 2016.

Many are interested in artificial intelligence and voice-activated assistants. Close to half, 45%, said they would be interested in their physician using AI to help with treatment decisions, while 28% said they were uninterested. Of those interested, 46% were motivated by the potential for a more accurate diagnosis; 31% cited the potential to reduce human error; and 15% hoped for faster treatment decisions.

Respondents uninterested in AI cited a preference for the expertise of a trained healthcare professional (47%) and a lack of trust in the technology (24%). 

More than half, 54%, said they check if their doctors are in-network before selecting a plan.

Three-quarters, 75% are prepared for open enrollment, including 84% of Gen-Xers and 78% of baby boomers, but just 69% of millennials and 44% of Gen-Zers. Nearly one in five, or 19%, said they were unprepared. When it comes to specialty benefits, 77% said it was important to have vision and dental coverage options.

When it comes to time spent researching health benefits during open enrollment, 36% of respondents said they devote less than one hour to the process; 27% spent between one and three hours; and 23% said more than three hours.

ON THE RECORD

"Technology continues to reshape nearly every aspect of life, including how people research and access healthcare," said Rebecca Madsen, chief consumer officer of UnitedHealthcare. "This survey suggests Americans are increasingly embracing technology as an important resource to improve their health and more effectively navigate the health system, while highlighting the need for further investment in new resources to help enhance the care experience and provide more effective, evidence-based clinical interventions."

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
Email the writer: susan.morse@himssmedia.com