Using the Internet for What Ails Us

We’ve become a nation of online diagnosticians, to judge from polling last month by Prospectiv. Asked if they’ve ever used the Internet to research “an ailment or drug treatment information,” 74 percent of respondents said they have. The poll was conducted online, which tends to mean the respondent pool is especially Internet-centric. But 74 percent is a big majority in any case.

What are people mainly looking for when they research health and medicines? Forty-nine percent said it’s “information about symptoms for a specific ailment or condition”; 29 percent seek “information on specific drug treatments for specific ailments or conditions”; 22 percent want “tips for managing ailments and health concerns.” When hunting for these kinds of information, 50 percent of respondents said they’re most likely to go to general health-focused Web sites, while 43 percent said they go to sites that focus on specific ailments. Five percent said they’re most likely to go to online communities. Just 3 percent said their top destination is drug companies’ branded Web sites.

While drug companies have made increasing use of Web sites to engage consumers and provide detailed information, they run into the same sort of anti-Big Pharma sentiment that marks consumers’ offline attitudes. Among respondents who didn’t pick pharmaceutical-company sites as their chief online resource for researching ailments and drugs, 38 percent said they “don’t trust” such sites. But unfamiliarity is also a problem, as 49 percent said they “don’t know about these sites.”

Whatever their aversion to Big Pharma, people are happy to get useful stuff for free. Thus, 82 percent answered affirmatively when asked, “If you could receive vouchers and free samples of prescription drugs for your ailments, would you welcome receiving these offers directly from pharmaceutical companies?”