Employers need to take a more active role in providing healthcare-related information to workers, according to a recent survey by the Washington, D.C.-based National Business Group on Health.
The survey, Employees and Healthcare Decision Making, revealed that employees of large organizations, particularly younger employees, understand they need to play a more active role in controlling their own health.
And as workers continue to seek additional information and research regarding medical treatment and options, they believe employers should play a significant role.
"Patients are often faced with daunting choices when confronted with a health-treatment decision," said Helen Darling, president of the NBGH. "In many cases, employers can help their workers become more engaged consumers by providing access to trustworthy, authoritative sources of medical information."
According to the survey, nine in 10 full- or part-time workers dealing with a health issue prefer to consult more sources than their doctors, though physicians' offices remain the most widely used source for health and medical information.
Though the majority of survey respondents said they were in either good (41 percent) or very good (39 percent) health, about one in 10 (11 percent) rated themselves in fair or poor health. Regardless of that rating, about half of all respondents said they had chronic health conditions, such as high blood pressure, asthma, diabetes, cancer or depression, which required regular medical care.
Nearly three in four workers (72 percent) received health information from their doctors' offices, according to the survey.
Other sources of information included Internet sites (68 percent), employee health plans (67 percent), friends and family (66 percent), magazine or news articles (61 percent), prescription-drug-package inserts (59 percent) and employers (54 percent).
But those consulting such information are more likely to be younger workers. About half (52 percent) of those under the age of 30 consulted such sources often or very often, compared to one-quarter of those aged 60 to 69.
The belief in the trustworthiness of information from family and friends declines with age, according to the survey. Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of workers under the age of 30 said such information was reliable, compared to about one-third (35 percent) of those aged 60 to 69.
It's critical, Darling said, for both younger and older workers to have medical information and resources, including an excellent personal physician.
Because women have more interaction with the medical system--if only because of childbirth--they are "likely to be much more engaged" in the process of seeking information, Darling said.
"Men are much more likely to rely solely on information from their doctors," Darling said.
As for acting on the information, most workers (70 percent) agreed that patients have a responsibility to both learn about the costs for treatment options and to make an effort to verify that a recommended treatment is actually necessary, according to Darling.
Older workers were more open to new treatments than their younger counterparts. Those under 50 expressed a strong preference for well-established treatments (45 percent), compared with new treatments (25 percent).
For workers 50 and older, respondants were nearly equally split, with 36 percent preferring etsbalished treatments and 35 percent preferring new treatments.
And one-third of workers under 30 said that, if insurance covers medical care, patients don't need to be concerned about costs, compared with 14 percent of those over 60.
It's incumbent upon employers to reinforce strongly that "each employee and adult dependent must take responsibility for care and for the costs," Darling said. "The patient has to be the captain of his or her healthcare team. In the history of this country, this is revolutionary."
Darling conceded that treatment options are frequently not straightforward. It's also important, she said, that patients receive appropriate evidence-based caution about newer treatments.
Survey participants included 1,558 full- and part-time workers between 22 and 69 years of age who worked for companies with at least 2,000 employees.
February 14, 2008
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