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Open Access Research article

Understanding and using comparative healthcare information; the effect of the amount of information and consumer characteristics and skills

Nicolien C Zwijnenberg1*, Michelle Hendriks1, Olga C Damman2, Evelien Bloemendal1, Sonja Wendel1, Judith D de Jong1 and Jany Rademakers1

Author Affiliations

1 NIVEL, Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research, P.O. Box 1568, Utrecht, 3500 BN, the Netherlands

2 Department of Public and Occupational Health and the EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making 2012, 12:101  doi:10.1186/1472-6947-12-101

Published: 7 September 2012

Abstract

Background

Consumers are increasingly exposed to comparative healthcare information (information about the quality of different healthcare providers). Partly because of its complexity, the use of this information has been limited. The objective of this study was to examine how the amount of presented information influences the comprehension and use of comparative healthcare information when important consumer characteristics and skills are taken into account.

Methods

In this randomized controlled experiment, comparative information on total hip or knee surgery was used as a test case. An online survey was distributed among 800 members of the NIVEL Insurants Panel and 76 hip- or knee surgery patients. Participants were assigned to one of four subgroups, who were shown 3, 7, 11 or 15 quality aspects of three hospitals. We conducted Kruskall-Wallis tests, Chi-square tests and hierarchical multiple linear regression analyses to examine relationships between the amount of information and consumer characteristics and skills (literacy, numeracy, active choice behaviour) on one hand, and outcome measures related to effectively using information (comprehension, perceived usefulness of information, hospital choice, ease of making a choice) on the other hand.

Results

414 people (47%) participated. Regression analysis showed that the amount of information slightly influenced the comprehension and the perceived usefulness of comparative healthcare information. It did not affect consumers’ hospital choice and ease of making this choice. Consumer characteristics (especially age) and skills (especially literacy) were the most important factors affecting the comprehension of information and the ease of making a hospital choice. For the perceived usefulness of comparative information, active choice behaviour was the most influencing factor.

Conclusion

The effects of the amount of information were not unambiguous. It remains unclear what the ideal amount of quality information to be presented would be. Reducing the amount of information will probably not automatically result in more effective use of comparative healthcare information by consumers. More important, consumer characteristics and skills appeared to be more influential factors contributing to information comprehension and use. Consequently, we would suggest that more emphasis on improving consumers’ skills is needed to enhance the use of comparative healthcare information.

Keywords:
Healthcare consumers; Comparative healthcare information; Amount of information; Sociodemographic characteristics; Literacy; Numeracy