California State University, Sacramento
Posted: February 1, 1999
College Students Fret About Health Care,
Will Try "Alternative" Medicine
Few college students expect health care to improve in coming years, while most feel that rising health costs will affect their ability to get service, according to two professors at California State University, Sacramento. At the same time, the professors say, college students are becoming more interested in "alternative" therapies such as herbal medicine, chiropractic, massage, and Eastern exercise and medicine.
The findings, noted in two forthcoming studies, suggest health care providers could face tough marketing challenges with Gen-Xers, even as they're pressured to provide an additional range of therapies.
Dennis Tootelian and Ralph Gaedeke, both professors of marketing, carried out the two studies. They are based on surveys of CSUS students, most of whom were 18 to 30 and considered typical of Western public university students.
"College students are quite important to health care providers, because they're the major users of the future and are going to help their employers make major decisions about health plans," Tootelian says.
Gaedeke points out that "the prevalence of alternative medicine use among university students is not too surprising, because the use of various alternative therapies has increased from 34 percent in 1990 to 42 percent in 1997. This development offers broad opportunities for the consideration of health care providers."
The first study, "Alternative Medicine Among College Students," appears in the current edition of the Journal of Hospital Marketing and was co-authored by Cindy Holst, vice president of communications at Mercy Healthcare. The second, "Perceptions of Young Adults as to the Future of Health Care in the 21st Century," will appear in mid-1999 in Health Marketing Quarterly.
Among the findings of the perceptions study:
- Most students felt that the range of services covered, access to care and personalized service will stay the same or get worse in coming years. Most also felt the quality of hospitals and doctors will stay the same or get worse. One-third felt these five areas will get better or much better.
- Most felt that they will personally pay more in coming years and that there will be more limits on what is covered.
- Of 11 factors in choosing a health plan, 73 percent said co-payment was very important. The factor which the second highest percentage of students called very important was the location of providers (70.5 percent), followed by whether hospitals accept the plan (69.2 percent) and reputation for quality (65.5 percent).
- Of six types of health insurance, 81.9 percent said basic medical was very important, followed by vision (72.5 percent) and prescription drugs (60.6 percent). Just 50.3 percent said long-term care was very important.
Among the findings of the alternative therapies study:
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- More than three out of four respondents were aware of acupuncture (81.4 percent), chiropractic (80.2 percent), herbal medicine (77.3 percent) and therapeutic massage (75.5 percent). A majority were aware of meditation (71.3 percent), hypnosis (68.9 percent) and Eastern exercise/medicine (54.6 percent).
- Herbal medicine was the most commonly used therapy (29.3 percent). Therapeutic massage and/or chiropractic had been used by 25.8 percent, while 16.7 percent had used Eastern exercise/medicine and 9.5 percent used meditation. Less than 5 percent used acupuncture, hypnosis or biofeedback.
- Family or friend recommendations were the most common reason for using alternative therapies.
- Students generally viewed alternative therapies as beneficial. Few used them because conventional therapies had not worked, and even fewer used them because they were perceived as less expensive.
- Health care organizations and doctors need not worry about hurting their reputation among college students if they recommend alternative therapies.
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