Employee Attitudes Toward Health Information and Comparative Effectiveness Research

Like it or not, employers are an important part of the health care equation. Helping employees navigate the health care system can benefit employers and employees alike. The fact is illness, utilizing health care and paying for care can be major distractions in the workplace. 

WASHINGTON, DC, February 1, 2011 — The number of U.S. employees who turn to their employer and health plan for medical and health information has increased sharply over the past few years, according to a nationwide survey of employees conducted by the National Business Group on Health, a non-profit association of more than 300 large employers. Employees also say they are somewhat familiar with Comparative Effectiveness Research, an emerging focus among employers which compares the clinical effectiveness of various health care interventions to determine the most effective course of treatment.

The survey found that three in four workers (75%) used their employer as a resource for medical and health information in 2010, a sharp increase from 54% in 2007. More than two-thirds of respondents (69%) rated their employers as completely, very or moderately trustworthy sources of heath information. Meantime, the percent of workers who relied on their health plan for health and medical information increased from 67% in 2007 to 76% in 2010. Growing numbers of workers also relied on health-oriented websites while fewer workers sought information from doctor’s offices, published articles, prescription drug package inserts, pharmacists, and medical school, hospital and government websites.

Employees face great challenges in navigating a complex, fragmented and hard-to-access health care delivery system, said Helen Darling, President and CEO of the National Business Group on Health. The amount of health care information that consumers need to sift through just to know what they should be doing seems endless and daunting. Our survey shows that workers want their employers to play a role in helping them access medical information about their health and how to make good treatment decisions from sources which are objective, trustworthy and reliable, such as the American Heart Association.

According to the survey, a vast majority of employees are somewhat familiar with Comparative Effectiveness Research (CER), which can help doctors and patients know what type of health care works best by comparing the effectiveness of different health tests or treatments. Specifically, 53% of respondents said they heard about CER a few times while 28% said they heard about CER more than a few times. Additionally, 57% of those who know about it believe this type of research is very important.

When asked how much they trust various organizations to conduct comparative research, 74% cited non-profit organizations focused on a specific illness as trust worthy organizations while 70% cited an independent panel of doctors and other health professionals. Just over six in ten (61%) said they trusted a college, university or other educational institution to conduct comparative research.

While employers now pay more than $10,000 per active employee annually for health care, they are not confident that these expenditures are truly improving employee health. As a result, they are now looking for ways to ensure that employees are receiving safe and appropriate quality health care, including care based on comparative effectiveness research. That, however, raises many questions employers need to address including how do employees currently make health care decisions and how do they evaluate which treatments are best for them, observed Darling.

Among the survey’s other key findings:

— 85% of respondents looked for health care information about symptoms before visiting a doctor while 71% of respondents said they brought a list of questions to ask their doctor during a visit. However, 41% indicated they were unsure how to discuss their concerns while 47% felt their doctors were rushed during the visit.

— Almost four in ten employees (39%) support incentives for using proven treatments versus 16% who support penalties for using treatments that research has shown work less effectively.

About the Survey
The survey, Employee Attitudes Toward Health Information and Comparative Effectiveness Research, was conducted in mid-October, 2010. A total of 1,538 employees at organizations with 2,000 or more employees responded to the survey. Respondents were between the ages of 22 and 69 and receive their health care benefits through their employer or union.


  1. Dick, as a Board member of PCORI (Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute) we are working with Helen Darling and others to understand the implications of the survey which you have cited. We are also working with other groups who have done complimentary surveys of other constituencies so that we begin to understand the customer requirements of the various stakeholders.

    Our Board meetings, which are public, will also have town hall component to them. During the town hall segment (of three hours) we will be getting direct feedback from any stakeholders that care to attend. The Board meetings themselves are held about every two months. Our next meeting is in St. Louis in March and the May meeting will be in NYC. Stakeholders can go to our website and find out more details about our meetings at http://www.pcori.org


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