Healthcare Panel: Costs More Troubling Than Quality

by Rick Blizzard, D.B.A.
Health and Healthcare Editor

Only a third are concerned about information privacy

Second in a series based on the results from the latest Gallup Poll Panel survey on healthcare

Last week I discussed the results from the latest Gallup Poll Panel healthcare study, which suggest that quality-related factors most affect respondents' decisions when choosing a hospital or other healthcare facility. When given a list of possible criteria, respondents are most likely to say expertise in a specific illness (63%) and the facility's history of medical errors (57%) influence their choices a great deal. But where does quality of care fit into the broader array of respondents' healthcare worries?

Personal Concerns Related to Healthcare Today

While respondents most often identify aspects of medical quality as key to their healthcare facility selections, it is not their top healthcare-related concern. When asked how concerned they are about several issues related to healthcare today*, 73% of respondents report being greatly concerned about the cost of healthcare. This is the only item on which a majority of respondents say they are greatly concerned.

Concern about costs is a rational approach. If a patient cannot afford to obtain care, the quality of the care provided is irrelevant. What may worry healthcare service providers is the discrepancy between the concern about the costs of healthcare and the concern about the costs and availability of health insurance. Respondents are likely to view healthcare service providers themselves, rather than health insurance providers, as the source of their anxiety regarding access to needed treatment.

Meanwhile, quality evokes less concern among respondents. Forty-four percent of respondents say medical errors or avoidable complications greatly concern them, while 40% say this about the advancement in treatments/cures. This may suggest that people tend to worry first about whether they will be able to afford any facility; and only then do they begin to entertain concerns about medical quality.

Note that only 36% of respondents cite the privacy of their healthcare information as of great concern. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and other government programs have sought to address patients' privacy concerns at great cost to healthcare providers. There are two possible explanations for respondents' relatively low rating on this issue. First, the concern with health information privacy may have been a a red herring put forth by a vocal minority supported by headline-seeking media. The low incidence of concern may be evidence of the shallow nature of the issue.

The second potential explanation is more palatable to health professionals: All the time, investment, and effort put into HIPAA and other privacy measures has worked. The attendant publicity may have raised awareness that health information privacy needs to be protected, and that the government is working to do just that.

Bottom Line

Some messages are very clear. Look at the hierarchy of personal concerns related to healthcare today: cost, and then quality. For those concerned that people have too little information to make rational decisions about their healthcare, findings such as these provide a priority list for improvements.

*These results are based on telephone surveys with a randomly selected national sample of 1,010 adults in the Gallup Poll Panel of households, aged 18 and older, conducted in September 2005. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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