Public Access

The universe of online consumers is growing slower than ever. But more patients and physicians are using the Web to search for information about health and medicine.
Sep 01, 2006

When people ask how health seekers look and act on the Web, there's no one answer: The online universe has become just as diverse as the rest of the world. Nowhere is this more evident than in the latest e-health statistics that, when taken together, paint a picture of customers who are beginning to find their feet—and new finesse—online.

Health and wealth

There are about 144 million online users, while 87 million are not online at all. The traditional drivers of health—income and education—remain strong predictors of online usage as well. Pharma is challenged to reach the less healthy, offline population. Some of these consumers may go online soon. Wal-Mart's debut last Christmas of the under-$500 PC, as well as increasing price competition among broadband providers, may bring greater numbers of less wealthy consumers online.

The key to credibility

Patients say the Internet has become more credible. Search engines—in particular, Google—have helped raise credibility with technology that judges the value of the content by counting the number of links to a site.

Merging content

The increase in broadband capabilities has brought about integration of online and TV content. And where the content goes, advertisers follow. Despite interest, many rich media initiatives remain in pilot testing, while the industry asks: Are people really watching this? The answer is yes, and those numbers will continue to grow.

Corporate sites

Most product managers have a hard time believing that patients visit corporate Web sites. But as other Web sites guide millions of users to the corporate sites, companies have been left to wonder if they are doing everything they can. Patient resources, like, will likely play an increasingly important role in company branding.

European interest

European physicians spend less time with pharma's Web initiatives, which leaves local affiliates wrestling with basic questions, such as whether e-detailing works. However, doctors' lackluster attitude may have more to do with companies' low online investment and meager electronic resources.

These graphs offer insight into the strategic role of technology in marketing. The research is derived from telephone-based studies conducted by Manhattan Research with 4,031 US adults and 1,250 US physicians, except where otherwise noted.


After years of sharp increases, the number of consumers going online has slowed to single-digit growth—predictions are that five million or less will migrate online in the coming years. However, the number of consumers using the Internet to research health conditions and drugs still is growing rapidly. Expect a lot of that—and in particular, information found on pharma sites—to be driven by search engines and new media-enabled content that will capture more eyeballs and interest. Search engines are now driving significant numbers of consumers to corporate Web sites, which has industry asking questions about how best to use this tool.

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