Technology is fundamentally changing the way that individuals engage their health. People are taking an increasingly active role in their health decisions and behaviors, often turning to the internet and digital tools for health information and access. Understanding how the health consumer landscape is shifting is important for health providers and the broader health care industry in order to better serve patients and improve access to quality care.

While trends in online health seeking behavior and patient engagement have been well documented in many regions around the world, few studies have been conducted to date in East Africa. Mobile and broadband infrastructures throughout East Africa now reach the majority of the population and consumer behaviors have been shifting. But how have consumer health behaviors shifted with increased access to the internet and mobile phones?

Methodology

access.mobile International created a consumer research study to better understand online health seeking behavior and patient engagement preferences. Topics included:

  • Health information sources
  • Preferred communication channels
  • Feelings about patient engagement
  • Engagement topics of interest
  • Use of digital health tools

The Nielsen Company, an internationally recognized survey firm specializing in consumer trends, conducted mobile-aided phone interviews in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

The sample of 311 people, represents over 100 respondents from each Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. Within each country, the sample includes between 40 to 60 females as well as a minimum of 25 respondents earning less than the national equivalent of $2.50 per day. The sample was randomly selected by calling every fifth phone number.

In terms of access to the internet, 47% of respondents owned a smartphone and 15% had access to broadband internet at home. Nearly half of the respondents had visited the doctor within the last three months and 12% reported having a chronic condition.

People trust health care providers and turn to them first for health information

When asked how much do you trust information about health or medical topics from each of the following sources, respondents from all countries trusted doctors the most by a wide margin. The graph below shows the percent of "a lot" of trust responses for each source by country. Ninety-seven percent of respondents trusted doctors "a lot"(76%) or "some"(21%).

Furthermore, over half of the respondents turn to health providers first for health information; respondents were over four times more likely to turn to a doctor or health provider than any other source for information. The internet was the next most common source of information followed by family and friends.

3 out of 4 respondents want health providers to communicate more

Seventy-six percent of respondents want their health provider to communicate MORE with them. Out of the 311 respondents, only 27 wanted less communication with health providers.

From our findings, providers do not generally contact patients outside of the health facility. Only 30% of respondents had ever been contacted by a health provider through any communication channel. The contact varied by country from 39% of respondents in Uganda to 36% in Kenya to 16% in Tanzania. Of those that had been contacted by a health provider, the communications were infrequent and generally done through a phone call (77%).

To read the full report, go to Health Behavior Insights East Africa.