Online health seekers after the pandemic

SUMMARY:

  • Online health seeker numbers are still very high, indicating that people are doing their research first before asking for a prescription drug.
  • Online health seekers trust pharma products but find product websites hard to read and inconsistent with their needs.
  • Telehealth numbers are dropping rapidly, but people still want to use telehealth to ask for Rx renewals and ask general questions.
  • By far, people over 50 are the biggest segment of online health seekers.

Online ads for prescription drugs are unique. Nobody will see an online ad for a prescription drug and ask their doctor about it without doing some research first. Pharma websites, more and more, are becoming less relevant when it comes to intent to ask their doctor about a new drug because they too often are hard to read and don’t answer patients’ questions.

Since mid-April, I have been given access to a panel of online health seekers, and the data is fascinating. It’s consistent regardless of health condition and clearly shows that patients go through a process before deciding to ask their doctor for a drug. What really surprised me was the use of social media to research Rx drugs. When I did the same, using the brand name for the search, I was taken back by both the number and depth of comments. Some people complained about side effects, but there were many more questions about when to take medications and how to get help with costs.

I haven’t seen any posts that indicate a “distrust” of pharma when it comes to prescription drugs, but pricing was definitely an issue. Patients want to understand better why their insurance company won’t pay for certain medication or why their co-pay has gone up. When it comes to side effects, the most read posts seem to be about side effects that impact “quality of life.”

So has healthcare really changed after the pandemic?

The answer to that is generally no. People are still going online in great numbers to query chronic health issues and medications, and although telehealth numbers had really taken off, they are starting to level down. People do have a lot of o questions about COVID vaccines because of the conflicting messages in the media almost every day. Still, there is strong interest in diabetes, depression, and arthritis medications. By far, the group that spends the most time online are cancer patients and caregivers.

The other interesting piece of data I pulled was that people over 50 are the biggest segment of online health seekers. Gen Z and Millennials do go online for health, but their needs are generally a tool to communicate with their doctor, not researching certain health conditions and drugs. People 50+ also resent the way they are portrayed on health websites. Showing images of grey-haired seniors passing a medicine ball around is not as accurate as someone that age riding a bike or playing tennis.

When asked about the key challenges of “searching online for health information,” almost everyone said, “getting accurate information that I can trust and understand.” Given the era of “fake news” and sensational media headlines, I can certainly understand that. The stories, for example, around the use of fish oil, are both confusing and contradict some studies, so where can people go to get accurate information?

I have also seen that an HCP is still the gatekeeper of recommending or prescribing a new drug. Patients trust their doctor more and more and want more time to talk with their PCPs about general health issues.

Online health seekers after the pandemic