Content, Research Lead Prescriptions Among E-Health Consumers

The majority of people who visited the Web in the past 12 months went to health-related sites, and used the sites for research rather than the purchase of prescription drugs, according to research by Ipsos-NPD, Inc.

The Ipsos-NPD Online Health Report found that 65 percent of people who visited the Web in a 12-month period went to health-related sites, but data from the NPD e-Conomy Indicator show that of the total online sales in the first quarter of 2001, only 1.2 percent were for prescription medicines, essentially flat from the same period in 2000.

“Contrary to some speculation within the industry, our research suggests that the extent of online prescription drug purchasing is quite low and likely to remain so in the near future,” said Bob Shekhdar, vice president of Ipsos-NPD’s custom pharmaceutical business.

The consumers surveyed did report a high level of satisfaction with the information quality of health-related Web sites. Two-thirds of the respondents were extremely or very satisfied with the information available, particularly on specific conditions/diseases. According to the report, consumers placed the greatest trust in the following sites: thebreastcancersite.com, americanheart.org, WebMD.com and DrKoop.com. Those sites with the lowest levels of trust were dieting, health insurance/HMO/managed care and brand name prescription sites.

Sixty-one percent of those who visited healthcare Web sites and requested a specific drug after learning about it on the Web were women. Sixty-nine percent of survey respondents stated that they trust their doctors to make the best medical decisions for them; more than one-quarter said that they rely more on their own research. Men will usually trust their doctor’s opinion more than women (78 percent vs. 69 percent). Eighteen percent of those who looked for healthcare information on the Web specifically searched for prescription drugs.

The research also examined the future of Internet for health-related purposes. More than one-third (34 percent) of survey respondents said they would conduct more online research in the future, mostly through general health information sites. The purchase of prescription drugs could rise with such conveniences as doctors prescribing online and 24-hour delivery of prescriptions. According to the respondents, doctor and pharmacist recommendations, as well as good experiences related by others, would lead to increased traffic to health-related Internet sites.

Cyber Dialogue found a more symbiotic relationship between prescription drugs and the Internet in its research on pharmaceutical marketing. According to Cyber Dialogue, the ability of Web sites to provide more information about a drug than a commercial or advertisement pays off for drug companies. For example, 37 percent of consumers who visited a Web site after seeing a prescription drug ad requested a prescription from their physician. This is compared to 31 percent who called the 1-800 number and 15 percent U.S. adults overall.

The consumers who use the Internet to learn more about prescription drugs are also a highly sought after bunch. Forty-three percent of consumers who visit a Web site after seeing an ad have an annual income of more than $50,000, compared to only 15 percent of those who call the 1-800 number. In addition, post-ad Web site visitors are more likely than 1-800 callers to be college-educated (38 percent to 23 percent) and under 35 years old (37 percent to 24 percent).

More than three-quarters (77 percent) of online consumers who have visited a Web site they’ve seen in an ad are interested in using the Internet to manage their own health and that of their families; 81 percent of this group feels that the Internet empowers them to make better life decisions.

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