Friday, November 25, 2011

Consumers seeking information for their health

The Center for Studying Health System Change published an interesting report recently focusing on how much (or how little) people are seeking information about their health aside from asking their physician.  The report also focused on the sources of information, the degree to which different factors influenced the decision making process, and the degree to which the information sought helps individuals in maintaining their health and in deciding on courses of action.

In this age of information--books, magazines, television, the internet, friends, family, formal support groups, patient groups who share information online, etc.--it seems surprising that there would be fewer people seeking outside sources of information.  It may not be surprising that fewer people are looking to books magazines, and newspapers.  It is more surprising to me that the proportion of individuals looking to the internet had not changed very much.

The study also pointed out that individuals with lower education were less likely to seek information and older adults were less likely to see information.  What might that tell us?  Individuals with lower formal education may need the information more.  Individuals with lower formal education may be less able to use the information.  They may have less knowledge of where to find the information.  But with the availability of information is not clear why the quantity of information demanded (if we assume that individuals who are demanding information demand about the same and we are simply seeing fewer individuals accessing information) would have gone down.  Does it mean greater trust of physicians?  Does it mean that those with lower education (and possibly lower income) feel that they have fewer choices in the current economic environment and don't see the value in gaining information if they lack choice?  Does it mean that individuals with lower education (and possibly lower income) are simply worried about things other than their health care in the current economic environment?

For older adults, it is even more interesting to ask why they, as a group, are not engaging in information gathering.  Are they uncomfortable with new sources of information?  As the number of chronic conditions grows do people fell they are less able to make sense of information when there are multiple views?

No simple answers--and no simple ways of figuring out what to do about it.  Do we trust that if people wanted more information they would get it?  Do we try to provide more information?  Do we try to provide more education so that people will understand the information provided in the first place?  And what is the cost and the effect of such efforts?  Of all the ways that we might improve the health of the population, how does getting people more information rank compared with other alternatives?

1 comment:

  1. The following are my comments to the four questions posed in the last paragraph:

    1) Although people may want more information, they may be hindered by a number of things. For instance, they may not be aware that it would affect them positively, they may not feel in control of their healthcare, or they may not know how to use the information they would find. As a result, it may be possible that they trust their doctors more than they would otherwise if they knew more about their own health conditions and the options that were available.

    2) If we provided education that was easier for people to understand, would that overwhelm the general populace or would that be helpful?

    3) In monetary terms, would the cost of labor and time in creating additional education materials financially benefit society?

    4) Essentially giving people more information about their own healthcare empowers patients to participate in the decisions that providers traditionally make. While this may give intrinsic value to the patient, would this ultimately change the outcome at all? Hence, economically speaking, would providing education be a cost-saving endeavor?