Aetna Inc., a Fortune 500 health insurance company, recently released the results of their “Health Ambitions Study”. The primary aim of the research was to evaluate consumers’ attitudes to the healthcare services they used and investigate their relationship with their healthcare providers. The study, carried out by surveying a thousand consumers, placed particular emphasis on obtaining information regarding the consumer’s priorities with regard to their own health and wellbeing. Alongside investigating consumer attitudes to healthcare, Aetna also surveyed 200 primary care doctors and a further 200 specialists.
According to the survey, the majority of consumers place a high priority on seeking resources that support their health and general wellbeing. When asked what they would do if they were given an extra hour each day to perform any activity, around 60% of all respondents said that they would engage in behaviours that improved either their physical or mental health. The results showed a great disparity between the sexes; nearly 67% of women surveyed responded that they would spend the hour improving their wellbeing, in comparison to only 44% of men.
The discrepancy between men and women was evident in several sections of the survey. When asked to evaluate how well their doctor understood their physical and mental health needs, women were much less likely than men to positively rate their physician. While the vast majority of men (80%) stated that their doctor was “familiar with their health goals”, only 65% of women felt the same. According to the survey, women find it slightly harder than men to talk to their physician about their lifestyle habits, with only 70% of women feeling comfortable in comparison to 81% of men.
The greatest difference between male and female respondents is seen when the consumers were asked how likely they were to take their doctor’s advice about their physical or mental health. While 81% of men said that they would follow their physician’s recommendations, only half of women stated that they would do the same.
When asked about her thoughts on the differences between men and women made evident through the survey, Aetna President Karen Lynch stated: “Women are often the primary caregiver for their families… So, when it comes to health and lifestyle goals, women need more support to feel confident in their health decisions for themselves and others.”
According to the survey, reducing stress in their daily life was a major goal for 45% of women and 28% of men. Overall, 36% of respondents stated that seeking health for mental health issues was of high priority for them. Getting personalized care was rated as very important by 71% of respondents, and coordination among healthcare providers was very important for 68% of patients.
In addition to seeking information on personal healthcare goals and patient-doctor relationships, Aetna wanted to assess what parts of the general healthcare process were of high priority to consumers. For example nearly 70% of patients said they wanted their physicians to speak to them in language that they can easily understand, 66% want to be able to get face to face appointments when they need them, and a further 66% want access to other healthcare professionals to help coordinate their care.
The development and availability of digital resources was rated a high priority among respondents under the age of 35. Around 35% of young respondents stated that digital messaging services with healthcare providers would be valuable to them, and would like the option of having virtual office visits.
It is not just the younger generations who see the use of digital services; 32% of respondents over 65s claimed that a digital messaging service would be useful. However, a much lower proportion saw the benefit of virtual office visits (17%) and Telehealth (14%).
When asked about their biggest concerns with the healthcare industry, the majority of respondents claimed that they were highly concerned with patient privacy and data security. This comes after several high-profile data breaches in recent years threatened the integrity of private healthcare information and put millions of people at risk of fraud. Healthcare information has a huge black market value, making healthcare facilities a potentially lucrative target for cybercriminals.
When surveyed, 80% rated patient privacy as very important, and a further 76% of consumers rated data security as very important. In comparison, only 73% rated the cost of health care as very important. Once again, there is some discrepancy between the sexes when it comes to concerns about data security. A higher proportion of women than men were concerned about data privacy (84% of women against 71% of men). Only two-thirds of men were concerned about data security, in comparison to 80% of women.
Despite the clear concern among consumers about their mental wellbeing, Aetna’s survey on physicians revealed only half of physicians felt that mental health counsellors were important for patients. Counsellors who helped patients fighting with substance abuse were only seen as important by 41% of physicians. A further 37% considered nutritionists were important to their patients’ wellbeing. In comparison, 35% said social workers were important, and only 32% said in-home aids and liaisons are important.