Alternative Media: Online Med Sites Gain Patient Trust

June 1, 2006
Pharmaceutical Executive

Volume 0, Issue 0

Trust is something that must be earned, and it seems as if online medical information has finally earned legitimacy in the eyes of patients.

Trust is something that must be earned, and it seems as if online medical information has finally earned legitimacy in the eyes of patients.

Philip George

According to a recent Accenture survey, consumers rate medical Web sites nearly as high as pharmacists as their most trusted sources for information. Approximately 13 percent of the 1,000 patients interviewed said they trust medical sites the most, just three percentage points shy of the 16 percent who ranked pharmacists number one.

The survey found that most patients are interested in taking a more active role in understanding their health conditions. Eighty-one percent of people want to know more about safety concerns and side effects related to the drugs they are taking, and 76 percent want to play an overall greater role in their medical care.

Most trusted source to learn about medications

Survey respondents noted they are willing to invest the time to research disease symptoms, available drugs and treatments, and to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of medicines and consider which one offers the most benefit. Much of this research is being done online, facilitated by the growing availability of the Internet and broadband capabilities. Sixty-three percent of those surveyed said they turn to the Internet to research the therapies healthcare professionals prescribe them. Additionally, 48 percent of respondents cited the volume and breadth of information online as the reason they turn to the Internet for health information.

Primetime Payoff?

While advertising has proven to influence buying behavior, it's not as effective as a tool for building trust. The Accenture survey shows a substantial difference between the number of people who say they trust information they see in a television ad and the number of people who trust what they read on Web sites.

Sources where patients typically learn about medications to treat their condition

Only five percent of patients said they always trust information from a direct-to-consumer ad, and only 19 percent said they always trust printed materials from pharmaceutical companies. Even if you include the "sometimes" category, only 60 percent of patients said they trust DTC ads, while 83 percent trust printed materials.

However, industry's online marketing efforts and initiatives are generating a greater degree of trust among patients. Twenty-two percent of those surveyed said they turn to pharma company-sponsored Web sites to learn about medication—the same percentage of consumers that turn to friends and family for health information and advice.

Gender Differences

When it comes to learning about medication, women turn to medical Web sites more often than men. Fifty-four percent of women say they go online for medical information, compared with 43 percent of men. Once online, females also are more likely to visit pharma-hosted Web sites (26 percent of women versus 18 percent of men).

Women also are more likely to read the package insert when beginning a new medication. According to the survey, 50 percent of men and 61 percent of women always read the information that comes with a prescription. This reinforces the need for inserts that are user friendly in terms of language and design, and for targeting women as the gatekeepers of health information.

Warning Signs

The shift of consumer trust to online sources should be a positive development for pharma. While TV ads allow companies to communicate only the most abbreviated information to patients, the Internet can provide consumers a richer, more educational experience when they're looking for that information.

To improve trust among consumers, it'd be worthwhile for pharmaceutical marketers to reconsider the allocation of their promotional dollars and marketing mix. More than half of people surveyed said that online medical sites are where they go to learn about medication. Doctors still may be consumers' number-one choice for getting information about drugs. But it's time that marketers pay closer attention to everyone's growing embrace of the Internet to create a channel of trust and communication with pharma's end users.

Philip George is managing partner of Accenture's Health and Life Sciences practice. He can be reached at philip.a.george@accenture.com