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Survey highlights the importance of the internet in reaching out to European patients
Despite the ban on direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising in Europe, pharmaceutical marketers can still reach out to patients, according to a survey by Manhattan Research.

Due to the lack of DTC advertising for pharmaceuticals in Europe, many pharma companies have assumed that consumers were passive participants in the patient-doctor relationship.

However, according to the Cybercitizen Health Europe survey, European consumers are more likely to have researched health information online than they are to have taken part in online dating, gaming or evening bill paying.

Manhattan Research's survey was carried out in Q2 2007 and 4,302 consumers in Germany, Spain, Italy, France, Belgium, Sweden, Poland, the Netherlands, Portugal and the UK were surveyed.

The survey says that one-third of online consumers in Europe research pharmaceuticals online, and nearly 80 per cent of these people go on to take some sort of action as a result of their online searches.

Corporate sites are playing an important role in patients' online research in the absence of European DTC advertising. An estimated 21 million consumers report visiting corporate sites in the past 12 months to get health and pharmaceutical information. Pfizer, Bayer and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) are the top three corporate sites visited to get health and treatment information.

Companies would be wise to heed this trend and provide patient-friendly disease education content in the local language on the local portal for the company - a feature that would be a benefit to patients and physicians alike, says the report.

Patients are also using US content sites for pharma information, where branded websites provide detailed information about branded products. However, one catch is that these are typically only available in English, which is a challenge for other markets.

Not only are patients looking for pharma information online, but they are also researching a wide range of diseases. Consumers are actively seeking information about allergies, depression and targeted topics such as cancer.

Targeted approach
One trend is evident amongst the websites visited by European patients: the content must be local. Language plays a major role in driving consumers to sites and content within their local market, which makes a pan-European site difficult to achieve.

Within each of the ten countries, specific sites with local content emerged as the leaders - with one site mentioned across a number of the ten countries surveyed: Wikipedia. In the absence of major health portals with accredited content in many of the countries, consumers are turning to sites such as Wikipedia as a local content source with up-to-date information.

Manhattan Research advises that companies would be wise to ensure their products are adequately represented within Wikipedia entries across the various countries, and to also survey them for treatment of certain conditions to check the available options are presented accurately and completely.

Of course, as some companies have learned, be vigilant in how you approach editing or altering Wikipedia content online, Making sure content is complete is one thing; selective removal of content is clearly another, warns the report.

Offline behaviour
Almost 150 million European consumers in the 10 countries studied in this research have accessed health information online; almost 100 million of these are then talking about the information with their friends and family, and 50 million are then talking to their doctor as a result of getting this information. 

The internet is clearly an avenue that needs to be better explored by pharma marketers; although traditional mass media (print, television and radio) is reaching large audiences, the strategic value of the online channel in Europe is clear.

In the absence of DTC campaigns to educate consumers about treatment options available, it is critical that marketers understand where European consumers go to get their information, both on and offline. It is important that marketers then provide patients with the tools and content needed to make informed decisions.

8th May 2008

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