Pew Survey Confirms Importance of Internet to Consumers

March 4, 2011 — Although the medicines industry is treading carefully in its use of Internet marketing, new research confirms that consumer use of the Internet is growing. Consumers both use and value the ability to research health topics online, according to the recently released results of a Pew Internet Project/California HealthCare Foundation survey. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies seeking to market their products to consumers online may find that a one-size-fits-all approach will fall short, because Internet use varies considerably across demographic groups.

“Study after study confirms that consumers will not wait for the clarification of government rules to use the Internet,” said John Kamp, executive director of the Coalition for Healthcare Communication. “Industry and marketing agencies cannot ignore consumer use and must provide consumers with information on the Internet, even while it waits for clarity from the FDA and elsewhere,” Kamp said. “The scammers and cheaters will be there, so industry must participate to offer reliable, FDA-regulated, information. However, this research also shows that medicine companies cannot abandon traditional media.”

The national survey, conducted Aug. 9-Sept. 13, 2010, found that 80 percent of Internet users look online for health information, with caregivers, women, whites, younger adults and adults with at least some college education cited as the most frequent users. The demographic groups least likely to use the Internet to find health information include African Americans, Latinos, people living with disability, older adults and adults with a high school- or lower-level of education.

Different Demographics = Different Behavior

Susannah Fox, associate director of the Pew Internet Project and the author of the study, remarked that “some groups are still on the other side of the health information divide.” Another recent survey (of physicians) conducted by the KCI Partners/Jeffrey Group found that traditional media relations may be a more effective form of communication with Latinos. Only 7 percent of those responding to this survey found that pharmaceutical companies communicated with Latinos “extremely well,” that report stated. 

“At this moment in time, Internet use is not equal across all demographic groups,” Ellen Hoenig, founding partner, Advance MarketWoRx, told the Coalition. “Therefore, pharma marketers must adapt current strategies and tactics and look to new ones to effectively reach and educate each core demographic segment important to their business,” she noted.

To reach target consumers where they are, pharma marketers should ask five key questions, Hoenig explained. These questions include:

(1)   What are these consumers’ preferred media channels, including social media?

(2)   Where do they turn first for healthcare information and to whom do they listen most? Do they rely on their doctors or others like themselves, and for which types of healthcare information?

(3)   How media- and technology-savvy are they? Do they own a smart phone or like to stream video?

(4)   Are the same messages and insights relevant to each core segment, and if not, what do these differences suggest from a communications standpoint?

(5)   Where are these segments on the treatment continuum, and will this impact the timing and content of their healthcare information needs?

The answers to these questions could – and should – alter how marketers reach different markets.

Survey Reveals Popular Search Topics

Certain topics are more popular with those Internet users who search for health data online, according to the Pew study. For example, 66 percent of Internet users look online for information about a specific disease or medical problem. Specifically, the top five conditions searched for on WebMD are shingles, gallbladder, gout, hemorrhoids and lupus. Further, 56 percent of Internet users are seeking information about a certain medical treatment or procedure. The top five treatments searched for on WebMD are pain relievers, anti-depressants, high blood-pressure medication, corticosteroids and hysterectomy, the survey states.

Other findings of note for pharmaceutical companies include the following:

  • 24 percent of Internet users look online for information about drug safety and recalls;
  • 17 percent of Internet users look online for information about memory loss, dementia or Alzheimer’s; and
  • 14 percent of Internet users look online for information about how to manage chronic pain. 

Bottom line, the recent findings show that “unlike the days of ‘mass’ media dominated by three TV channels, today’s pharma marketers have an infinite number of ways to reach and engage patients, including traditional offline and Web media, social media, gaming and video platforms, and mobile texting and app marketing,” Hoenig concluded. “It’s up to pharma to put the pieces of the puzzle together to best meet each segment’s needs and preferences. There is no one marketing and media strategy that will work for all healthcare consumers.”cialis order 5 mg