A new study published in the November issue of Social Science & Medicine described the role of spatial peers in a diffusion of information about healthcare. The study utilizes the usage of medical coverage program in Karnataka, India that provided free tertiary care to poor families to assess the issues.

Health insurance has generally been seen as a way to empower monetary hazard assurance and enhance access for patients and their families. Previous studies have concentrated on the effect of consumption smoothing, usage of care by the insured and better health outcomes, while the present study proposes role of diffusing data on the advantages of treatment in hospitals.

In order to investigate spatial and transient grouping of tertiary care, the investigators utilized the administrative data of disease condition for which the patient was hospitalized, the location of a patient, and the expenses substantiated by the scheme at the patient level (10,507 observations).

The researchers found that current use of healthcare could increase the future healthcare utilization in the same location ( the group of villages). The similar association observed even after they controlled for

a.      Local area health condition fixed impacts to represent time-invariant factors identified with spatial disease predominance and tertiary care hospitalizations.

b.      Local area specific time fixed impacts to take into consideration differential patterns in health and insurance related outreach activities.

The study results show that one new hospitalization a day brings about 0.35 additional future hospitalizations for a similar condition in a similar local area. The researchers believe that those impacts would increase as the health insurance program turns out to be more settled.

“We also document that these effects are stronger in densely populated areas and become pronounced as the insurance program becomes more mature suggesting that word of mouth diffusion of information might be an explanation for our findings,” researchers noted.

The better insight into the information diffusion role of health insurance would be significant in the developing economies where the utilization of tertiary care is low and people are distrustful about the advantages of treatment.

Further studies are required that could portray the exact nature of information streams between the patient and his associates and the extent to which such data streams reinforce or obliterate misconceptions regarding the advantages and costs of treatment.