UnitedHealthcare survey: Insurance literacy remains an issue for consumers; patients leery on telehealth

A significant number of Americans comparison shop for healthcare services, but limited health literacy may keep them from understanding what they're shopping for, according to a new survey. 

UnitedHealthcare released the results (PDF) of its annual consumer survey and found that nearly a third of respondents (32%) comparison shop for healthcare treatments, procedures and services, but few had a grasp on basic health insurance concepts. Just 9% of respondents could define all four basic insurance concepts outlined by the survey: insurance premium, deductible, co-insurance and out-of-pocket maximum. 

Some of the people surveyed were also unclear on how insurance networks work. Thirty-six percent said that they thought visiting an in-network provider would increase their care costs, while 24% thought it would have no impact on cost. 

RELATED: 5 models for the 'health insurer of the future' 

People also frequently overestimate the cost of common medical tests but underestimate the price for more complex surgical procedures, according to the survey. Only 4% of respondents could correctly estimate the cost of a knee MRI, and only 10% could guess the correct price for a knee replacement. 

The average price nationwide for a knee replacement is $36,000, but the majority of respondents (63%) estimated between $5,000 and $25,000. 

RELATED: Low health literacy a potential hurdle to consumer HIT adoption

The survey also examined consumers' affinity for and use of healthcare technology. Twenty-eight percent of respondents said either the internet or mobile apps are their first source for information about health conditions or symptoms, an increase from 25% in 2016's survey. 

Adoption rates are highest for millennials, with 36% saying they use tech as a primary source for health information. Meanwhile, just 20% of baby boomers surveyed said the same. Nearly half (44%) of millennials said they comparison shop online for healthcare services. 

Despite the growing focus on telemedicine, 46% said they would be unlikely to use telehealth services, compared to 42% who said they'd be likely to do so. Twenty-nine percent said they would be very unlikely to use the technology, while just 16% said they would be very likely to. 

The survey included responses from more than 1,000 people ages 18 and older.