Pharma insight on digital marketing, social media, mobile apps, online video, websites and interactive healthcare tools
by Dominic Tyer
The biggest influence on whether US patients visit a pharmaceutical company's disease information or 'drug.com' website is whether their doctor thinks it's worthwhile.
That's according to a US survey on how people access online health information, which found physician recommendations were the top influence on traffic to pharma websites.
Makovsky's third annual survey found that on average US patients visit a doctor three times a year, but spend nearly 52 hours searching online for health information – and their personal computer remains the device of choice for this.
Some 83 per cent of respondents said they would use their PC for health searches, compared to 11 per cent who would use a tablet and the 6 per cent who would pick up their smartphone. But tablet use is on the rise – increasing by 7 per cent since 2012, while smartphone usage has remained the same.
PR agency Makovsky and research firm Kelton quizzed 1,000 Americans and said 42 per cent cited physician recommendations are a key influence on whether they would visit a pharma website, saying they carried more weight than news articles (33 per cent) or recommendations by family, friends or colleagues (30 per cent).
Lower down the list came TV ads (highlighted by 25 per cent of respondents as a prompt to go to pharma web properities), drug discounts (14 per cent) and magazine ads (13 per cent) – all of which still scored higher than social media adverts, which were mentioned by just six per cent of people in the survey.
A bigger challenge for the industry is that its websites continue to score poorly when patients are choosing where to go for health information, with nine per cent of survey respondents saying they would visit pharma sites for information.
It's a figure that's dwarfed by the popularity of WebMD, which remains the online health resource of choice for 53 per cent of people in the survey, followed by Wikipedia (22 per cent), health magazine websites (19 per cent) and advocacy group websites (16 per cent).
Gil Bashe, practice director at Makovsky Health, said: “The survey results demonstrate that even as consumers research health-related information online, they seek trusted resources for that information – their physician, or a fellow patient.
“Healthcare providers and patient advocates serve an increasingly key role in guiding consumers to credible information and community support that can benefit their care.”
The survey also saw the popularity of social media channels as a source for health information ranked relatively low, with YouTube (12 per cent) leading the sector ahead of Facebook and blogs (both 10 per cent).
However, taken as a whole almost a quarter of people (24 per cent) said they would visit at least one social media site, or a combination of sites, for health information.
Given that pharma's social media use tends to either drive traffic to its own websites, or re-purpose material from these sites, the survey is an important reminder to harness a combination of social media channels, while not losing site of such big hitters as WebMD and Wikipedia.