Survey: More Americans Turn to Technology for Health Information, with a Record Number Now Comparison Shopping for Care

September 26, 2019
  • Fourth-annual UnitedHealthcare Consumer Sentiment Survey provides insights into Americans’ health care knowledge, opinions and preferences during open enrollment

  • A survey-record 37% of respondents have used the internet or mobile apps to comparison shop for care, yet many people need greater access to cost information for prescription medications  

  • Nearly half (45%) of Americans said they would be interested in their physician using artificial intelligence in care decisions, with Millennials (55%) the most receptive      

  • Most survey respondents (75%) with health benefits say they are prepared for the fall’s open enrollment season, down 2 percentage points from a year ago

Many Americans want technology – such as artificial intelligence – to help make health care decisions, and a record number say they have used the internet and mobile apps to comparison shop for care, according to a new UnitedHealthcare survey.

These are some of the findings from the fourth-annual UnitedHealthcare Consumer Sentiment Survey, which examines Americans’ attitudes and opinions about multiple areas of health care, including open enrollment preparedness, technology and transparency trends and health literacy. Key findings include:

  • More Americans are turning to technology to comparison shop and access care, but few know the cost of prescription medications. A survey-record 37% of respondents said they had used the internet or mobile apps to comparison shop for health care during the past year. Among those, 39% said they changed the facility or care provider (or both) as a result. Yet people would benefit from the wider use of resources that make pharmacy costs more transparent, as just over 10% of respondents who take prescription medications say they “always” know the cost of the drugs before leaving the doctor’s office. Meanwhile, many respondents (39%) said they would likely use telemedicine in the future to access care, a 2 percentage point increase from 2016.

  • Many are interested in artificial intelligence and voice-activated assistants: Nearly half (45%) of respondents said they would be interested in their physician using artificial intelligence to help with treatment decisions, while 28% said they were uninterested. Among users of voice-activated assistants, 61% said they would be interested in using this type of technology to help evaluate health care information.

  • Most people with health benefits say they are prepared for open enrollment, and many want vision and dental coverage options. Three-quarters (75%) of respondents said they are prepared for open enrollment, including 84% of Gen-Xers and 78% of Baby Boomers, but just 69% of Millennials and 44% of Gen-Z. Nearly one in five (19%) said they are unprepared. When it comes to specialty benefits, most respondents (77%) said it was “important” to have vision and dental coverage options during open enrollment.

“Technology continues to reshape nearly every aspect of life, including how people research and access health care,” said Rebecca Madsen, chief consumer officer of UnitedHealthcare. “This survey suggests Americans are increasingly embracing technology as an important resource to improve their health and more effectively navigate the health system, while highlighting the need for further investment in new resources to help enhance the care experience and provide more effective, evidence-based clinical interventions.”

Technology and Transparency Trends

Technology continues to play an increasingly important role in how people research health care options.

More than one-third of respondents (37%) said they have used the internet or mobile apps during the last year to compare the quality and cost of medical services – more than double the 14% in 2012 (according to another UnitedHealthcare study). Millennials (50%) were the most likely to use comparison shopping resources. Among all comparison shoppers, 80% described the process as “very helpful” or “somewhat helpful,” including 39% saying the shopping process prompted them to change the health care provider or facility (or both) for the service.

Meanwhile, few Americans say they know the cost of prescription medications, highlighting the need for greater transparency around drug costs. Among people taking prescriptions, a majority (64%) said they “never” know the cost of the medications before leaving the doctor’s office; 21% said they “sometimes” know this information. Just 11% said they always know the price.

Some Americans are embracing emerging technologies that may influence treatment decisions, with 45% of respondents saying they are interested in their physician using artificial intelligence to help with diagnosis. Among those, 46% were motivated by the potential for a more accurate diagnosis; 31% cited the potential to reduce human error; and 15% hoped for faster treatment decisions. For respondents uninterested in artificial intelligence, they cited a preference for the expertise of a trained health care professional (47%) and a lack of trust in the technology (24%).     

Open Enrollment Preparedness and Preferences

When it comes to time spent researching health benefits during open enrollment, 36% of respondents said they devote less than one hour to the process; 27% spent between one and three hours; and 23% said more than three hours. Many affirmed the importance of specialty benefits: 77% of respondents with health benefits said that having vision and dental coverage options is “important” during open enrollment.

Nearly 55% of respondents said they check if their doctors are in-network for the health plan they intend to select. In regard to understanding common health care terms, more than half of respondents successfully defined plan premium (59%) and deductible (53%); however, respondents had a more difficult time defining out-of-pocket maximum (33%) and co-insurance (21%).

When it comes to help with a question or to resolving an issue with their health plan, two-thirds (66%) of respondents preferred speaking directly with a customer service representative; 10% preferred a self-service option through an app or online. For nearly half of respondents (46%), a health care professional, such as a doctor or nurse, is usually the first source of information about specific health symptoms or ailments, followed by the internet or a mobile app for 20% of respondents. 

For complete survey results, click here.    

About the Survey

The 2019 UnitedHealthcare Consumer Sentiment Survey was conducted Aug. 8-12, 2019, using Engine’s Telephone CARAVAN® survey among a landline and cell phone probability sample of 1,008 U.S. adults 18 and older. The margin of error was plus or minus 3% at the 95% confidence level. Supplemental interviewing, among a probability sample of 1,002 U.S. adults age 18 and older, was conducted Aug. 22-28, 2019.

About UnitedHealthcare

UnitedHealthcare is dedicated to helping people live healthier lives and making the health system work better for everyone by simplifying the health care experience, meeting consumer health and wellness needs, and sustaining trusted relationships with care providers. In the United States, UnitedHealthcare offers the full spectrum of health benefit programs for individuals, employers, and Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, and contracts directly with more than 1.3 million physicians and care professionals, and 6,500 hospitals and other care facilities nationwide. The company also provides health benefits and delivers care to people through owned and operated health care facilities in South America. UnitedHealthcare is one of the businesses of UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH), a diversified health care company. For more information, visit UnitedHealthcare at or follow @UHC on Twitter.

* Survey results are designed to reflect opinions of Americans based on probability sampling of 1,008 adults, along with additional supplemental sampling of 1,002 adults. 

Here are highlights from the 2019 UnitedHealthcare Consumer Sentiment Survey, including data points about open enrollment preparedness and technology trends.
Here are key findings from the fourth-annual UnitedHealthcare Consumer Sentiment Survey, which provides insights into Americans’ health care knowledge, opinions and preferences.

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