Thursday, October 06, 2005

Online health information seekers spend more on prescriptions


A new study finds that consumers who research health information online are more likely to purchase drugs to treat symptomatic illnesses, like insomnia, and generally spend more on prescriptions than offline patients.

According to the latest findings from Ipsos PharmTrends, a syndicated tracking study of consumer health behaviour, online health information seekers are more likely to buy drugs to treat allergies (48% of users vs. 41% of non-users), depression (20% vs. 13%) and insomnia (14% vs. 10%).

But online patients needing treatment for asymptomatic illnesses, such as high blood pressure and heart conditions are less likely to treat their conditions with prescription or over the counter drugs. For instance, only 65% of households who access online health sites purchase prescription drugs for high blood pressure, while 79% of non-users purchased such medications.

The same trend holds for heart medications, with just 12% of Internet information seekers purchasing prescriptions, compared to 21% of non-users.

The findings seem to offer strong clues for pharma marketers for choosing appropriate channels to reach online and offline patients.

“Internet health sites are allowing consumers to control their health outcomes, making it easier to self-diagnose symptomatic illness and understand their conditions,” says Barbara Bernter, vice president of Ipsos Insight’s PharmTrends. “Conversely, patients suffering from asymptomatic illnesses must rely on their doctor’s expertise and office or hospital tests to accurately diagnose their condition and recommend appropriate therapies.”

The study also reveals that households that use the Internet as a health research tool are more likely to purchase prescription pain medications than over the counter drugs.

Sixty-two percent (62%) filled a prescription for arthritis medication compared to just 55% of offline patients, while 80% filled prescriptions for back medication, versus 68% of offline patients. For general pain relief, 66% of internet health information seekers purchased a prescription drug, compared to just 59% of offline patients.

“Part of the reason for the increased consumption of prescription medications by Internet-using health information seekers is likely the proliferation of websites sponsored by pharmaceutical companies and online and televised direct-to-consumer advertising,” Bertner says. “But also, consumers using Internet-based health information may be more likely to request prescription medications from their physicians because they are engaged, active health consumers, who inform themselves of their treatment choices and drug benefits and side effects before visiting their doctor.”

Among those respondents who visited health-related websites, most (51%) went directly to the pharmaceutical company website or drug-specific website to research their new prescriptions. Users also frequented hospital and physician sites (44%), government sites (43%), retailers (41%), and online magazine and newspapers (40%) for prescription-specific information. Respondents were less likely to rely on sites dedicated to a specific condition or disease (37%), general health information sites (37%), and their HMO or insurance company’s site (34%).

And those respondents using the Internet to help in their health and wellness choices consume slightly more drugs than others, averaging 7.8 prescription or OTC purchases, versus 7.6 during the study period. And, not surprisingly, the out-of-pocket amount online households spent also was slightly higher, with $114 spent on prescription and over the counter drugs between May and July, compared to $103 in offline households.

The results of the diary-based survey also reveal that 52% percent of wired households have researched general health information online. Sixty-three percent (63%) of households used the web to get health-related information on a specific condition or disease during the three-month study, and 36% looked to the Internet for information on a specific prescription or over the counter drug. And those who participate in this information-seeking behavior are more likely to request a specific drug from their physician (19% versus 15%).

To learn more about the study, visit .

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