DTC Study: Marketers misaligned with online health seeker needs


  • People are going online more and more to sarch for health information after seeing a DTC pharma TV spot.
  • Pharma websites are not consdiered a top resource for infromation on new products.
  • Cost is not that big of an issue for people who have health insurance.
  • It’s more about weighing the benefit against the potential side effects.
  • TV spots are the number one way people learn about new pharma products.

Last year was an excellent year for our consulting group. Given the lack of new DRC studies, we decided to take some of the money we earned to let one of our team lead a quantitative online DTC study. Our objective was simple: find out what people were doing due to being exposed to DTC TV commercials. The study is ongoing, but here are some of our initial findings with 1543 people.

1ne: Next steps, after exposure/awareness of DTC commercials, varies widely by condition. Diabetes patients, for example, rely on social media to see what others are saying about new treatments, while psoriasis patients want to know the differences between treatments.

2wo: By far, going online for more information was the next step to learn about new treatments. In the past, the cost was a key issue. Still, we’re finding that people are more interested in potential “side effects,” especially a side effect that compromises their immune system or causes GI upset.

3hree: Pharma product websites are not listed as a top online health resource even when looking for information on a specific product. WebMD is still number one.

4our: We included a series of questions on understanding online health information. Most said they had to go to several websites or use an online search to help them understand medical terminology.

5ive: Unless a new treatment has specific benefits balanced with minimal side effects, the vast majority of respondents said they would not switch or consider a new medication.

6ix: Online health seekers trust pharma products, but they are “very concerned” about rising drug costs as their health insurance rates climb.

7even: Asked to rate pharma DTC TV spots (educational, make we want to know more) the almost everyone gave them a deficient rating.

8ight: The number one way people learn about new pharma products is via TV. Their doctor was a distant second.

9ine: Hard to pronounce branded drug names often is a barrier to getting more information online. Some people Google “new diabetes drug that helps me lose weight,” for example.

10en: Almost everyone agreed that DTC TV commercials help them learn about new treatments and not contribute to higher drug prices.

Our study goal is a minimum of 5,000 people. We are using Amazon or Target gift card contests to get people to answer the questions we are trying to keep short. No personal information is being collected, only age group.

I hypothesize that online health seekers are learning more about treatments and comparing them against their needs more and more. Yes, there is a lot of bad health information online, but the higher the education, the more they can eliminate false information. So far, our findings seem to concur that TV is the best channel to create awareness about new treatments for chronic conditions.