Symptomatic employees often turn to online searches rather than doctors

Data from an Aetna International survey also suggest that employers and convenient digital tools could play a role in connecting these potential patients to care.
By Dave Muoio
02:15 pm
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A new survey polling thousands of international office workers suggests that two in five will opt to search their symptoms online and self-medicate rather than visit a doctor, and the same amount admit that doing so makes them more nervous about seeking care from a professional.

On the flip side, a similar portion of respondents (43%) said they would investigate their condition online and then see a practitioner. And while 40% said they hadn’t seen a doctor in the past year despite long-term health worries, 35% and 33% noted that they would be more likely to visit a professional if they could book their service or view their personal health data through an app or online tool.

These numbers come from a report published recently by Aetna International, which polled more than 4,000 office workers at mid-to-large businesses in the UK (1,012 respondents), US (1,007 respondents), UAE (1,001 respondents) and Singapore (1,006 respondents). In addition to the digital-centric findings, the survey also quizzed workers on their health engagement and the role their employers could play in promoting regular care.

On these topics, 24% said they were worried about their health but are afraid of having a health check, and many said that they weren’t aware of their current blood pressure (37%), BMI (41%), cholesterol level (67%) or blood type (35%).

Meanwhile, a third of the respondents said that they didn’t have the time to be ill at work, with 21% noting that they are unable to take time off of work to attend a checkup. Forty-six percent said that the ability to easily take time off work to attend an appointment would encourage them to see a doctor, as 27% said that motivation from their boss would encourage them to take a greater interest in their health.

WHY IT MATTERS

Even if it’s not quite the majority of workers, these data suggest that online search tools and the information most readily available are influencing many employee’s health-seeking behaviors.

“There’s no getting away from Dr. Google,” Dr. Sneh Khemka, SVP of population health solutions and vHealth at Aetna International, said in a statement. “We need to recognize that people are going to use the internet/Google more and more over time. So the onus is really on big tech giants such as Google – to make sure they’re curating results that come from validated, reliable sources of information.”

The other findings highlight an opportunity for employers and management to drive greater healthcare engagement. Of note, employee’s interest in digital health tools, coupled with time management concerns, outline a particular opportunity for apps and other offerings that are focused on convenience.

“As digital tech allows you to have a consult there and then, you get a much quicker, more immediate, personalized response and get triaged to the right level – from there you’re either going to be advised to go and rest, or to go and see a specialist and have further tests, for example,” Khemka said.

THE LARGER TREND

These survey results come in alongside another poll from Mercer Marsh Benefits, Mercer and Oliver Wyman, which suggested that employees and employers alike are interested in the potential of digital health offerings (although prior data suggests that the types of services these two groups are eying may differ).

Consumer-friendly devices like Apple Watches and Fitbits are becoming an increasing staple of some employers’ wellness plans, while digital health management and coaching services like Livongo have touted the ROI they can offer. And just this week Hinge Health CEO and cofounder Daniel Perez stressed to MobiHealthNews the strength of the employer health-market as a factor in his company’s recent success and investor confidence.

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