Survey: 59 percent of adults have used online resources in place of primary care

By Jonah Comstock
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Fifty-nine percent of American adults used a website like WebMD to look up symptoms instead of visiting a primary care physician, according to a new survey, while only 12 percent used telemedicine in place of primary care.

The data comes from the University of Phoenix College of Health Professionals, which completed an online survey of 2,201 individuals across a range of demographic backgrounds. The data provides interesting insights into adoption of health technologies.

“The healthcare industry is shifting to a patient-centered model that harnesses technology to both open communication channels and create a platform for patient engagement,” Doris Savron, executive dean for the College of Health Professions, said in a statement. “Given this shift, it is crucial that patients not only have access to these technologies, but also view them as important resources for improving their health and overall care experience.”

Respondents were also asked about their use of online health records, online appointment booking, online chat capabilities, text message appointment reminders, and e-prescription refills.

For online health records, 37 percent said they currently had access to their records, but only 25 percent said they had used accessed online health records in the past year. Seventy-four percent of respondents rated online health records access as somewhat or very important.

For appointment booking, 27 percent had access, but just 15 percent had made use of it in the past year. Fifty-nine percent considered it important

Online chat had the lowest adoption, with 17 percent having access and only 5 percent using it, but 49 percent of respondents still rated it as somewhat or very important.

Twenty-eight percent had used text message appointment reminders though 35 percent had access to them. Sixty-four percent rated them as important to their care.

Finally, for e-prescribing, 39 percent had access, 26 percent had taken advantage of that access over the last year, and 72 percent considered it an important resource.

Certain demographic trends held across each of the technologies asked about in the survey. In every category except online chat services, women were considerably more likely than men to have used the technology, which could be explained by the fact that women are more often caregivers and often responsible for healthcare within a family.

In most categories, usage of technology correlated with income and educational level. For instance, in the e-prescription category, 38 percent of those earning $100,000 per year or more had used the technology in the last year, compared to just 21 percent of those earning less than $50,000.

Correlations with ethnicity were less consistent. In fact, in the category of online chat capabilities, people who identified as Hispanic were more than twice as likely as white-identifying respondents (11 percent versus 5 percent) to have used these services — perhaps because chat tools are easier to navigate with a language barrier.

The full survey asked about a number of issues beyond technology, including what qualities participants valued in their providers and questions about insurance coverage decisions.

“The data shows that technology is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to patient care,” Savron said. “Although new technologies are resources that we should lean on to help improve communication, interpersonal skills are the foundation for ensuring patient trust and better care.”