Washington — American consumers want more from their health care system than they're currently getting—greater online connection to health care providers and medical records, customized insurance coverage and wider access to emerging innovations such as retail clinics, a new survey from Deloitte Development LLC reveals.

The "2008 Survey of Health Care Consumers," a representative poll of more than 3,000 Americans between the ages of 18 and 75, was conducted by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions.

The surveyed consumers expressed anxiety about future health care costs—only 7% said they're adequately prepared financially—and are increasingly searching for alternative medicines and services that can save money and offer convenience. But many also said they were willing to pay extra for wellness programs, and support or consider tax increases to cover the uninsured.

"More than anything, the findings convince us that Americans no longer see themselves only as patients, but as consumers who want to take greater control of their health care," said Paul Keckley, executive director of the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, who directed the study with William Copeland, Jr., national managing director of the Life Sciences and Health Care practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP. "Consumers will redefine our health care market, but how they do it is the most important strategic question the health care industry must answer."

Copeland said the survey's scope makes it one of the most thorough and comprehensive efforts to date to measure consumer attitudes, behaviors and unmet needs. "We believe these attitudes and consumer demands could have a transformative impact on the way health care services and products are developed," he said.

Among the survey's key findings:

- 93% say they’re not well prepared for future health care costs
- 79% of consumers believe health care will be an important issue in the 2008 election; 46% described it as one of the top three issues affecting their vote
- 34% say they would use a retail clinic; 16% already have
- 60% want physicians to provide online access to medical records and test results, and online appointment scheduling; one in four say they would pay more for the service
- 1 in 3 consumers say they want more holistic/alternative therapies in their treatment program
- 3 of 4 consumers want expanded use of in-home monitoring devices, and online tools that would reduce need for visits and allow individuals to be more active in their care
- 84% prefer generic drugs to name brands
- 29% support a tax increase to help cover the uninsured; another 34% say they would consider a tax hike
- 52% of consumers say they understand their insurance coverage; only 8% understand their policies completely

The way Americans think and behave in buying, managing and using their health care varies widely by gender, age group and cultural background, according to the survey. Women and men, for instance, have different approaches to how they select and pay for their health care.

The Deloitte survey, however, found that consumer needs overall are basic—better service, personalization, value—and they want specific tools to customize the health services and insurance programs they use. Consumers are embracing innovation. Respondents said they wanted health plans to provide help with clinical decisions, not simply administrative services, and many want to customize their insurance with unique coverage and pricing features.

In addition, the survey revealed the consumer health care market is not homogenous; key distinctions exist within different groups. An analysis of the data found that the more than 3,000 respondents fell into six discrete segments, ranging from "content and compliant" consumers more accepting of the status quo to "out a d about" health care shoppers who tend to be more independent and willing to try unconventional treatments.

Those factors taken together carry with them the potential for dramatic near-term change in the way U.S. doctors, hospitals, health plan administrators, drug makers and biotech companies operate, Keckley noted.

For additional findings, visit deloitte.com/us/consumerism/library.

Source: Deloitte

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