Survey: Most consumers turn to blogs, Facebook for health info

CHICAGO — A social media go-to-market strategy is fast becoming a must-have for companies these days, especially those companies operating in the healthcare arena. It’s no longer enough to push patient education out through a branded online page, not with the growing prominence of social media sites. Today, companies need to seed that education across Facebook and Twitter and/or actively engage bloggers and heavy users to successfully get that education out to the masses online.


An Accenture survey released Tuesday found that U.S. consumers seeking medical advice are turning to medical websites, social media sites, online communities and informational websites in far greater numbers than the websites of pharmaceutical companies. According to the survey, of the more than two-thirds (68%) of consumers who go online for health information, slightly more than 1-in-10 regularly turn to a pharmaceutical company’s website to seek information about an illness or medical condition, compared with 92% who more frequently look to other online resources.



That patient traffic helps illustrate the fundamental shift from a predominantly one-way company-to-patient dialogue to enabling a patient-to-patient — and even a patient-to-healthcare-professional dialogue — through the evolution of social networks and online communities.



“Pharmaceutical companies that embrace innovations, such as social networking and communications via mobile devices, and integrate and align their communication strategy across multiple channels will be positioned to have a much greater influence on their patients’ choices and, consequently, realize significant increases in revenue, profitability and sustained competitive advantage,” stated Tom Schwenger, global managing director for Accenture’s Life Sciences Sales and Marketing practice.



There also is a fundamental shift on where those patients are accessing that online research. According to the Pew Internet Project’s latest survey conducted in association with the California Healthcare Foundation, 17% of cell phone owners recently have used their phones to look up health or medical information, and 29% of cell phone owners between the ages of 18 and 29 years have done such searches. Almost 1-out-of-every-10 cell phone owners also have downloaded a health-related app to help them track or manage their health. There now are more than 250,000 apps available for the iPhone4, more than 30,000 such apps for smart phones running Android and several thousand for those who have Blackberry devices.



Cell phone users between the ages of 18 and 29 years are more likely than older cell phone owners to use mobile health apps: 15% do so, compared with 8% of cell phone users ages 30 to 49 years, for example. African-American cell phone owners are more likely than other groups to use such apps: 15% do so, compared with 7% of white and 11% of Latino cell phone users. Urban cell phone owners are more likely than those who live in suburban or rural areas to have a mobile health app on their phones. There are no significant differences between men and women, nor among income groups.


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