Information supply Featured

9:36am EDT July 22, 2002

Do you feel like the information on health care choices that you provide to your employees is going unused?

You could be right. Or you could be wrong.

A recent study by the University of Minnesota on how consumers use information to choose a health care provider shows that it all depends on who your employees are.

  • The more educated your employees, the more likely they are to utilize the information you provide. The study shows that post high school education is positively related to the use of information from the employer. College-educated employees are 14 percent more likely to use the information than are those with just a high school education. Those with postgraduate education are 16 percent more likely, and even technical school grads are 10 percent more likely to use the information, compared to high school.

  • The longer an employee has been with the company, the more likely they are to use information you provide. The longer the tenure, the more trust they put in the information.

  • Using internal communication to spread information increases effectiveness. Companies using mail, e-mail or kiosks to distribute health information increase the likelihood of its use by 6 percent, according to the study.

  • Younger workers and those with lower incomes are more likely to rely on information from friends. The study showed that employer-sponsored classes on health providers actually increased the usage of friends for making choices. Employees may view classes as an opportunity to talk with friends about health insurance, rather than as a forum for listening to messages from their employer.

  • Employees who see the doctor at least once a year are less likely to use information from the employer or friends.

  • Older and low-income workers are more likely to use information from advertisements.

The thought that employees do not trust information from their employers and do not rely on it to make choices is incorrect. The study shows that between 60 and 76 percent (depending on how the data is interpreted) of employees referred to employer information when making a decision. Employers with a stable work force who are not providing information about their health care options should consider doing so.

The study's authors, Roger Feldman, Jon Christianson and Jennifer Schultz, offer the following:

"The results suggest that employers can predict which information source or sources their employees will use. However, the employer's strategy must be matched with the characteristics of its work force because what works in one situation may not apply in another.

This conclusion is important for employers who want to promote a price- and quality-conscious health care purchasing program." Todd Shryock (tshryock@sbnnet.com) is SBN's special reports editor.