Americans Receive A Failing Grade When It Comes to Their Medical IQ

Over 60 percent of patients don’t know basic information about their doctor

June 26, 2014 – LYNDHURST, NJ – Our health is personal. But when it comes to navigating the system that cares for us, many Americans aren’t making the grade. A new survey from the Vitals Index reveals that while two-thirds of people perceive themselves to be a savvy health care consumer, many don’t know how to find quality care at a good value.

In fact, more than 60 percent of respondents didn’t know basic quality information about their doctor, such as which medical school s/he attended. Younger consumers were the least likely to know which school their doctor attended, and over 10 percent of consumers said they didn’t care.

Besides not heeding quality indicators regarding providers, consumers were also blind to cost-savings for their care. Just one-third said they negotiate bills with a doctor or hospital. Similarly, only 1 in 3 know the cost of a medical service or procedure before receiving care. Women (39%) were more likely than men (29%) to know the upfront cost of a procedure or doctor visit.

“At a time when the price of care can vary by thousands of dollars from clinic to clinic and high-deductibles are more common, consumers need to know how to compare prices before they go see a doctor,” said Mitch Rothschild, CEO of Vitals. “No shopper would buy a TV without knowing how good it is and how much it costs. We should buy health care with that same level of transparency.”

But at a time when health insurance is mandated for all under the Affordable Care Act, the survey revealed that common terms related to covered care are not understood.  Less than half of the respondents could accurately define the terms co-insurance or formulary. Only 66 percent could define the term deductible.


87 Out of pocket maximum
82 Co-pay
66 Deductible
51 FSA
47 Formulary
23 Co-insurance

Studies in the past have shown that patients who are engaged and know more about their health care have lower costs and better health outcomes.  The Vitals Index survey found a direct correlation between health care savvy and household income. Households with incomes under $50K were the least likely to know a doctor’s background or understand insurance terms. They were also 50 percent less likely to negotiate medical bills compared to higher-income households.

“The people who could benefit the most from the system simply don’t know how to navigate it,” said Rothschild. “That’s not only matter of financial well-being, but of personal well-being. It’s clear that better education and access to meaningful transparency tools is necessary at all levels to improve the health and wealth of Americans.”

One bright spot is that about 80 percent of consumers do regularly ask for generic equivalents of their prescriptions to save money. Sixty-seven percent of people know retail clinics offer flu shots cheaper then most doctor offices or hospitals.

About Vitals

Vitals is reinventing the way people chose doctors and medical facilities. We provide increased transparency to cost, quality and access information to support effective decision making. Vitals brings together actionable data, online tools and an engaging consumer experience that empowers consumers to make more informed, higher-quality and lower-cost health care decisions.  Through health plans, hospitals and our leading consumer websites, Vitals helps more than 150 million people each year access information for better, more affordable care. The Vitals Index is an ongoing report about the state of doctor-patient relationships based on proprietary data and surveys.

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