What is pharma’s responsibility for online health information?

Research has shown that 74% of all U.S. adults use the Internet, and 61% have looked for health or medical information on the Internet. Additionally, 49% have accessed a website that provides information about a specific medical condition or problem. Many people get health information from the Internet but are left on their own to determine if it’s credible. This is one area where pharma companies can restore trust and excel.

Fierce Healthcare reported, “three in 4 Americans leave the doctor confused and dissatisfied for reasons that include disappointment in the level of Q&A they have with their doctor, confusion about their health, and a need to do more research, according to a survey of 1,000 U.S. adults. The study was commissioned by the foundation and conducted by Kelton Global.”

42% of Americans research their doctor’s suggestions after a visit. Of those, 80% turn online to do so. Nearly 9 in 10 Americans feel confident in the information they find on the internet, and a third feel they learn more there than from their doctor.

Regarding social media, online health information can be even more dangerous. Nearly 90% of all adults in the USA search for health information on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media sites. Over 75% of Americans use social media to research their health symptoms.

So what is pharma’s role in providing online health information?

Right now, people don’t come to pharma websites unless DTC drives them for a specific product. There are some unbranded sites, but the branded places far outnumber them. On the branded websites, there is usually some disease state information. Still, consistent research has shown that they don’t provide the information patients want in a language that talks to them.

Pharma companies have access to some of the best physicians in the country, and they are underutilized when helping patients understand health issues. Asking thought leaders to write content for your product website is often received as praise, and it’s been my experience that most are more than willing to help.

It would help if you made clear that their content will need to be edited because of FDA requirements and that they can have final approval along with a short bio introducing the physician to readers but the value of this content outweighs the risks.

So what’s the ROI? The ROI is your brand getting closer to your audience by answering their questions so they don’t have to look all over the Internet for the information they want. This also means you must have a content strategy based on listening to patients, nurses, and physicians. Conversations around specific health conditions should be monitored and measured for opportunities and threats that need to be addressed with fresh content.

The other key thing to remember is the reading level. Here’s a simple test. Go to your website, copy some content, and then paste it into a Word document. Within the tools, you’ll see a measure of reading level. It should be at an 8th-9th grade reading level. If it’s higher than that, you’re not talking to your audience; you’re just a label that nobody will read.

The fundamental question is whether DTC marketers owe their audiences more than just basic product information. It has been my experience that they do. I worked on content that directly talked to patients and caregivers on the websites and scored highly over time.

DTC marketers need to fight for the information their audience wants. It’s about seeing this audience as people, not just a target.