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Online Healthcare Consumers Head to WebMD

Pharma websites are not especially popular

September 17, 2013

Healthcare consumers are headed online in significant numbers to research both their ailments and treatment options. A July 2013 survey of US internet users conducted by healthcare marketing company Makovsky Health and research firm Kelton found that, despite a wealth of options available to them, consumers are most often turning to WebMD.

More than half of respondents named the website as their most accessed digital resource for health information. Wikipedia was next, named by 22% of those polled, followed by health magazine websites (22%) and advocacy group sites (16%). Pharma company websites were the least accessed sites, named by only 9% of respondents, indicating that drug makers have some work to do in establishing themselves as credible sources of information.

Most Accessed Digital Resources for Health Information by US Internet Users, July 2013 (% of respondents)

Overall, advertising appeared to have little effect on driving traffic to pharma websites, with web ads seeming to have less impact on internet users than either television or magazine ads. In fact, referrals to pharma websites were led by physicians; 42% of respondents said a physician’s referral would be the most likely reason they would head to a pharma website. Next were news articles (33%), recommendations (30%), television ads (25%) and drug discount cards (14%). Only 11% cited web ads.

Web users were also most likely to visit pharma websites following a diagnosis, rather than after they experienced symptoms or before they’d filled a prescription. That indicates that consumers are most often seeking information about pharmaceutical products once they know what their illness is and are assessing various treatment options available to them.

Stage When US Internet Users Visit Pharma-Supported Websites, 2012 & 2013 (% of respondents)

eMarketer projects that healthcare and pharma digital ad spending will grow relatively slowly over the next few years, rising from $1.2 billion in 2013 to $1.5 billion in 2017.

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