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France's Consumers Choose General Websites for Health Information

Informal health sites outperform those of institutions

July 12, 2016

Most consumers in France look for health and medical information on the internet. But the websites of government institutes or health professionals aren’t their first port of call, according to May 2016 research from Ipsos. The report was commissioned by MSD France, a global pharmaceutical group and a subsidiary of Merck & Co.

Digital Sources Used to Access Health Information According to Internet Users in France, May 2016 (% of respondents)

Ipsos surveyed 1,100 members of its online panel ages 16 to 75 in late April and early May 2016. Of those, 68% said they did search digitally for medical information of various kinds.

More than two-thirds (69%) of that group said they consulted general health sites such as Doctissimo, while 34% referred to online encyclopedias, including Wikipedia. These percentages had shifted slightly since 2015, when 67% said they went to general health sites, and 39% accessed encyclopedias.

Both were more popular than the sites of France’s medical institutions—such as the French Ministry of Health or the French Institute for Health Promotion and Health Education, cited by 24% of those polled—and the sites of health professionals such as doctors, dentists and pharmacists, cited by 20%. One in five respondents also visited sites offering information about drugs and other medication.

Social networks were among the least favored destinations for health advice and information; just 6% of respondents said they went to sites such as Facebook or YouTube. Similarly, only 7% of consumers looked on the websites of pharma laboratories. Just 8% consulted patient associations online.

Preferred Method of Communicating with Healthcare Providers According to Mobile Media Users in Select Countries, Q2 2016 (% of respondents)

According to MSD France, these results highlight the need for more detailed health information accessible digitally to the general public. In fact, the report was released in conjunction with MSD’s launch of Medelli.fr, a doctor-approved health and wellness information site. But the Medelli site also goes beyond information access, allowing users to search for a suitable doctor and book an appointment. To do that, they must enter a medical specialty—such as infant health—as well as their location.

It remains to be seen whether consumers in France will take to booking medical appointments online with doctors or other practitioners unknown to them. A survey of mobile media users in several countries in Q2 2016 found that those in France were least likely to use digital channels to communicate with healthcare providers. Of the mobile users polled by global trade body the Mobile Ecosystem Forum (MEF) and Mblox, only one in 10 said they preferred communicating with doctors, dentists and hospitals via SMS, and just 4% preferred email. Instead, half of those surveyed wanted to contact a healthcare provider via telephone, and 32% preferred to deal with such matters in person.

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