While mHealth Usage is on the Rise, Health Literacy is Not

Pay a visit to the Apple or Google app store, and chances are, you’ll be overwhelmed by the number of health-related apps that are available for download, from those that allow provide infant care and health tips to new parents, to those that assist in managing diabetes, to those that help users track weight loss. And studies have shown that the number of people choosing to use mHealth technologies has been steadily increasing in recent years. But, as the results of one new study highlight, while utilization is decidedly on the rise, basic health care literacy is not. As mHealth Intelligence first reported, the 2017 Consumer Sentiment Survey from insurer UnitedHealthcare found that an increase in consumers’ use of technology has not necessarily led to an increase in basic knowledge of the health care system; at the same time, this comfort with technology represents an opportunity for providers, health systems, and insurers. “These survey findings will build upon our experience creating innovative ways to engage with customers and help them navigate the health care system,” said UnitedHealthcare Chief Consumer Officer Rebecca Madsen in a statement accompanying the release of the report.

UnitedHealthcare researchers surveyed more than 1,000 people, with questions focusing on five key areas: preparedness for health plan open enrollment, technology trends, health literacy, customer service, and where respondents envision “the future of medicine.” Probably unsurprisingly, when it comes to technology, more people than ever are both using apps for health management and information and turning to the Internet to do health-related research. Indeed, 28 percent of respondents reported that they turn to the Internet or to apps before any other source when researching health conditions; among Millennials, that number jumped to 36 percent. Along similar lines, 42 percent said that they would be likely to utilize telemedicine. But, while nearly three quarters of those surveyed reported feeling prepared for open enrollment, many respondents still have a limited understanding of basic insurance terms such as “plan premium,” “deductible,” “co-insurance,” and “out-of-pocket maximum.” Many also had confusions about the cost of various health care services and procedures—in other words, there is definite room for improvement.

The findings from the UnitedHealthcare study somewhat echo the results of a Canadian study released earlier this year, which found that usage of mHealth technologies was heavily skewed toward more privileged consumers. As we reported at the time, those researchers found that, of those who said that they regularly tracked their health using the devices, respondents tended to be young and fairly well off: 41 percent were younger adults, 59 percent were employed, 55 percent had a university education, and 46 percent had an annual household income of more than $80,000. Similarly, they also tended to be in good health, with only 28 percent of frequent users either reporting a chronic health condition or classifying their health status as “fair/poor.” At the same time, the Canadian researchers also saw potential for the use of mHealth with a broader population for health improvement.

Click here to read the mHealth Intelligence article on the UnitedHealthcare consumer survey.

Click here to view the full results of the UnitedHealthcare consumer survey.

Click here to view a UnitedHealthcare press release on the consumer survey results.

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