Study: Consumers want control of healthcare decisions but keep it neutral on costs

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — According to a new study, 9-out-of-10 consumers prefer to be in control of medical decisions or participate in shared decision-making with their doctors. Evidence, however, suggests that the cost of care does not typically play a part in these discussions.

These results, and more, are part of the spring 2014 Altarum Institute Survey of Consumer Health Care Opinions, the sixth semiannual survey conducted by Altarum’s Center for Consumer Choice in Health Care. The surveys collect information on consumer beliefs and preferences about health care.

“We can’t assume that one size fits all for consumers — there remain wide variations in skills, attitudes, and behaviors that individuals bring to the health care system,” stated Wendy Lynch, director of CCCHC and the study’s author. “This survey reminds us that many consumers desire an active role in health decisions, but few know how to participate, take action, ask questions, or seek information. Tailoring the right support to the right person will be critical for patient-centered care.”

The study found that, while more than 80% reported that they would feel comfortable talking with their doctors about costs, significantly fewer, around 50%, have ever done so. This gap may be attributed to a lack of confidence, as only one-third of consumers believe they have the ability to shop for better health care prices.

Among other things, the surveys look at consumers’ preferred role in health care decisions, their sources of information about health, factors they consider important in selecting providers, and other perceptions about the quality and cost of health care. Respondents include a national sample of 2,099 adults between the ages of 18 and 64.

In addition to collecting information about the consumer’s role in his or her medical decision making, the surveys collect data on a person’s experience with their own medical illnesses, including home-care and faith-based responses. The surveys also ask about their experience with medical errors, which injure or kill millions of people each year.

Finally, the most recent study found high predictability for those who took the new Altarum Consumer Engagement Measure, created by CCCHC. Altarum recently launched this measure to assess levels of consumers’ health engagement. Consumers with high ACE scores were more likely to look up health-related information and ask questions during health care visits. Conversely, consumers with low ACE scores were more likely to go to the doctor later than they should have. CCCHC researchers are looking at how these scores correlate with consumers’ experience with discussing costs.

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