Going Online For Health Info

By Malcolm Fleschner

When average Americans need health-related information, where’s the first place they turn?

  1. To their genial, bespectacled hometown family practitioner
  2. To knowledgeable friends, relatives and coworkers
  3. Tapes of old episodes of E.R. they keep handy
  4. None of the above

The correct answer, increasingly, is D. None of the above. That’s because nowadays a sizeable and rapidly growing segment of the population is taking their medical inquiries online. In fact the Internet is rapidly creating a sea of change in how medical information is conveyed by giving consumers the tools to take charge of their own health care education process. Experts at the well-known healthcare and life sciences marketing firm Manhattan Research (www.manhattanresearch.com) report that the following five trends will increasingly shape the public e-health arena.

Trend #1: The Internet gets bigger.
As traditional health promotion and patient education practices are rapidly giving way to more targeted efforts to promote patient care, the Web has emerged as the primary go-to source for 31.6 million Americans, according to a recent survey. This represents a more than 50% increase from 2004 to 2005. In total, nearly 100 million U.S. adults have used the Internet to access medical information in the past 12 months.

Trend #2: The on-demand health consumer emerges.
Innovative marketers have identified a new segment they refer to as on-demand consumers who are more likely than the average consumer to seek out interactive medical content and embrace the concept of taking charge of health-related content. These consumers watch video clips online, subscribe to podcasts, read blogs, carry PDAs and listen to satellite radio. Though healthier than average, on-demand consumers are more likely to suffer from ADHD, acid reflux, allergies, social disorders, arthritis, cancer, migraines and obesity.

Trend #3: Do not pass Google.
While consumers continue to pursue direct links with online health content Websites such as WebMD and Mayo Clinic, search engines remain the primary conduits for finding the latest and most diverse health content and resources available online today. Consumers also report expecting the health-related capabilities of search engines such as Google and Yahoo to grow considerably in the near future

Trend #4: Who’s under the influence?
Recent studies indicate that a group of about 20 million Americans tend to wield substantial influence over the health decisions made by the rest of the population. These health influencers tend to influence those within their immediate circle – spouses, children, elderly parents – as well as extended family members and friends. While other health consumers are likely to seek out these individuals for advice, the health influencers themselves are more likely than others to use interactive media such as the Internet to seek out knowledge and health education.

Trend #5: From DTC to E.
Of perhaps most interest to pharmaceutical executives, research indicates that consumers who view direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical product advertising are increasingly looking to the Web to find additional information. In 2005 more than 22 million consumers have sought out online information about DTC ads they’ve seen on television and other traditional media channels.