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Poll: Community resources viewed as key to health

Saturday March 9, 2013
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Despite an optimistic view of health in their communities, significant portions of the United States population are not convinced that communities provide sufficient access to key resources for good health, according to a national survey.

The survey, conducted Jan. 12-20 by Penn, Schoen & Berland on behalf of The Atlantic magazine and GlaxoSmithKline, found a strong majority of Americans place a premium on healthcare providers and environment as primary drivers of their community’s health. The phone survey of 1,004 individuals found that Americans — in particular lower-income individuals, defined as those making less than $50,000 in household income — view physicians and hospitals as primarily responsible for ensuring good health in a community.

Nine of 10 Americans consider themselves to be in good personal health, and 81% said the health of people in their community is good, according to the poll. This finding is in stark contrast to recent reports that a third of U.S. adults are obese (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and 26 million adults and children have diabetes (according to the American Diabetes Association).

Americans believe a variety of community factors are very important to their health: good air and water quality (87% of respondents), regular access to doctors and dentists (82%), healthy food choices (81%) and nearby hospitals and urgent care facilities (74%).

However, the poll found significant unmet needs for the most underserved in this country, with those who most value these community health resources having the least access to them.

Minorities and urban, low-income Americans in particular are less convinced of their access to clean air and water, nearby hospitals, green spaces, safe housing and healthy food choices. For example, 89% of low-income Americans cited good air and water quality as being very important to their health, yet only 58% said they have a great deal of access to these environmental and community services. Additionally, 84% said regular access to doctors and dentists was very important to their health, but only 66% feel they have such access.

Technological influences

The survey also found a continuing, rapid evolution in how technology is changing the way people access healthcare. The survey suggests Americans want technology to become a bigger part of the healthcare system, with 64% using online health resources and 94% of those saying the health/medical information they find online is important to their health. But only 12% of respondents have emailed or sent a text message to a physician regarding a health question.

“It’s interesting to me that a third of people have never looked up their health condition or symptoms on the Internet, while nearly 90% have never emailed or texted with their doctor,” James Hamblin, MD, health editor for TheAtlantic.com, said in a news release.

“That last point may be a slippery slope in terms of a physician’s limited time and work-life balance, not to mention limited compensation structures for that kind of communication, but it seems to me one area where the healthcare community could achieve a happier medium. Imagine being able to ask your doctor a quick question or check in with him or her directly without going all the way to an office visit.”

Younger people in general are far more likely to embrace and utilize health information technology, according to the survey results. However, this group also tends to place greater emphasis on removing face-to-face interaction with healthcare professionals and self-diagnosing their conditions.

Among the additional findings in the poll, more than one in three young Americans are willing to have primarily online interaction with doctors. Young people (defined as those under age 30), Hispanics and upper-income Americans are most open to communicating with their doctor mainly through text messages or emails. Young people and Hispanics are eager to use web applications to help improve their health.

Also, 40% of Americans who use online resources engage in self-diagnosis; 32% of those under 30 who use online health resources act on the information they find without consulting a medical professional; and significant proportions use health websites for purposes that otherwise would require doctors’ visits.

A PDF of the poll results is available at http://atlanticlive.theatlantic.com/pr/CommunityHealth/PollResults.pdf.


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