A recent study on web-based health plan decision tools authored by Song Chen, Pinar Karaca-Mandic, and Regina Levin appears in the most recent issue of Health Services Research. We are well into the digital age, but it seems that health care is lagging on this front. Plenty of docs still use handwritten prescriptions and patient charts, resisting the learning curve and expense of electronic medical records despite the advantages they would confer. So, Chen et al. ask, what about patients?
A number of large health insurers have created websites that allow consumers to go online for help in understanding the different plans available to them, comparing the features of those plans, and even estimating the costs for a particular visit or service. The study had a simple, but important, aim: Find out who uses these websites the most. Using data from United Health Care, what they found wasn’t terribly surprising. The people most likely to use the website were better educated, had higher incomes, and tended to be younger and white. They also exhibited signs of being “internet-savvy”–things like having a credit card and shopping online.
For me, this raises a serious concern: How can we target the other groups, providing them with information that they can use to actively engage in decision-making regarding their care? The results of this study suggest that different approaches are needed to reach those who are low-income, poorly educated, older, racial minorities, and without access to the internet. Design such approaches, well, that’s the hard part.