Online health seekers are having a tough time

SUMMARY: Online health seekers are increasing in number, but so is the prevalence of inaccurate health information. Drug side effects are among the most talked about in social media, and patients are more concerned about side effects. They may not be willing to risk potential side effects like pancreatitis. DTC marketers need to reassure their audiences that drugs have been thoroughly tested and are indeed “safe and effective.”

Online health seekers are not having an easy time getting relevant health information. Even the main channel media is reporting contradicting information on COVID vaccines. Over the last week, stories have run on booster shots saying that some people need them while others may not, and it could be anywhere from five months to eight months after your last vaccination.

What I have found interesting, however, is that a lot of people, who are refusing vaccines, are doing so because they’re afraid of the side effects and feel the vaccines haven’t been tested enough. I can’t help but feel that these issues will carry over to newly approved prescription drugs.

Over the last two years, I’ve seen research that indicates patients are becoming warier of drug side effects. It has become an issue for MS and diabetes drugs as people seek advice on Twitter and other social media platforms. Of course, this doesn’t apply to ALL categories of drugs, but DTC marketers need to be aware that their audiences want to know about clinical testing and side effects beyond fair balance.

Over time I’ve found that people trust the information on pharma drug sites, but they have a hard time understanding how it relates to “them”. Listing potential side effects doesn’t tell a patient how likely they are to get a side effect.

Should DTC talk about clinical trials? In TV ads, probably not, but online it’s going to be a must. We need to help patients and caregivers understand how new drugs are tested to reassure them that they are indeed safe. DTC websites should also mention that it’s still being monitored for ongoing clinical trials even though the drug has been approved.

The other way to reassure online health seekers is to add a page with links to credible health information. There are too many bogus health websites; we need to help patients make the right treatment decision.

Finally, pharma should have thought leaders write content for their websites with “straight talk”. By posting thought leaders’ content and listing their credentials, you can increase engagement levels.

Online health seeker behaviors are changing due to the confusion on bad/inaccurate health information. To sit back and do nothing is not an option.