BDN health survey highlights consumer trends

Posted June 15, 2010, at 10:10 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Most Mainers in the northern part of the state have a strong interest in eating a healthy diet, taking vitamins and supplements, and maintaining a routine of regular, vigorous exercise. Most describe themselves as serious seekers of health care and wellness information, and most feel that they are knowledgeable about available and recommended services.

Many consumers use the Internet to inform themselves on health and wellness issues, but local daily and weekly newspapers remain the primary source of information about local services, products and events.

These are some of the findings of a new telephone survey of consumer health trends in northern Maine. The 2010 Health Care Study, commissioned by the Bangor Daily News and conducted by a private marketing and communications firm based in New Jersey, was presented Tuesday morning to a small gathering of health care provider organizations from across the northern half of Maine.

The new study, conducted in the eight-county region served by the BDN, grew out of a recent regional survey of retail trends and demographics. That study provided general consumer information to help guide area businesses in their marketing and product development strategies, but also drew requests for more detailed data specific to the health and fitness sector, according to study designers.

“We strive to help you in your decision-making processes,” said Bangor Daily News publisher Richard Warren, addressing Tuesday’s breakfast meeting at the Hilton Garden Inn. The new survey provides valuable information for consumers and the business community alike, Warren said, at a time when interest in health issues is at a high point.

The survey used a computerized telephone questionnaire to interview 700 adults in the BDN readership area, including Aroostook County, north central areas and Down East Maine. The interviews were conducted in February and March of this year.

Key findings include:

• There is an extensive use of hospital services in the area, reflective of the aging population.

• It is common for people to travel outside the Bangor region for specialized care and newer technologies.

• Most adults have a primary care physician and some health care coverage.

• High blood pressure and high cholesterol are the most common medical problems.

• Many people delay medical care because of its cost.

The health care sector “makes up a large part of the economy in terms of both work force and consumer services,” according to Edward Efchak, president of Customers by Design, which conducted the 2010 Health Care Study. Efchak said consumer and employer interest in issues of health and wellness has been fueled by many factors, including national health reform and the increased availability of public information about the comparative performance of doctors and hospitals.

Data from the BDN-commissioned survey can be customized to answer questions about specific geographic areas, health care services or work force issues, he said.

Among the approximately 20 health-sector professionals who attended the presentation was Bill Flagg, director of community relations and development at Cary Medical Center in Caribou. Flagg said the 65-bed hospital is interested in understanding the degree to which consumers are making use of online quality information reported by Maine hospitals — especially since Cary Medical Center is located just a few miles from the competing Aroostook Medical Center in neighboring Presque Isle.

“Are our consumers looking at that information … and does it influence their decision [about which hospital to use]?” he asked. “It seems clear that it does.”

Dan Coffey, chief financial officer for Brewer-based Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, said the health care marketplace is changing.

“Twenty-five years ago there was no money spent on advertising,” he said. “Now things are more competitive.”

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