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.
New Rx FSA rule deemed operationally impossible by industry thought leaders
WASHINGTON — A panel of healthcare thought leaders has concluded that a recent IRS rule change going into effect Jan. 14, 2011, will demand retail system challenges that are operationally impossible to overcome in the limited time frame required.
And the National Association of Chain Drug Stores couldn’t agree more.
The new rule is the requirement of a written prescription to qualify over-the-counter medicines as reimbursable medical expenses through the use of pre-tax flexible spending accounts. Before, a consumer would just have to swipe his or her FSA debit card when making an eligible OTC purchase. Now he or she has to make a doctor’s visit and get a prescription.
“We see this as a threat to consumer access and choice at a time when we need our citizens to be more engaged in managing their health and the cost of care,” stated Jon Comola, executive director of the Foundation for HealthSmart Consumers. According to foundation researchers, the resulting costs could reach $2.5 billion annually if doctor visits and lab tests are incurred by even 10% of the insured population; potential new pharmacy costs could reach $3 billion annually.
NACDS is concerned that current IRS guidance would prohibit the use of debit cards in the purchase of not only any prescribed OTC medicine, but also any prescription-only therapy. “Currently, there is no robust interaction between pharmacy dispensing systems and IIAS systems,” NACDS stated. The Inventory Information Approval System is used to substantiate purchases for flexible spending accounts.
“IIAS systems cannot distinguish between a medication for which a prescription is required and an OTC that has been prescribed,” NACDS explained. “As a result, a prohibition on using debit cards for prescribed OTC medications could have the practical effect of prohibiting the use of debit cards for all prescribed medications.”
Tomorrow’s senior is today’s joint care supplement user
A recent Raymond James Financial commercial, in which the “fastidious librarian Emily Skinner” lives to the “ripe old age of 187” (thanks in part to prudent financial planning), really captures what tomorrow’s senior is going to look like — or at least what he or she will aspire to look like. And judging by the commercial, seniors will look extremely active, playing a ping-pong champ, landing a record-setting bass and setting off on a hang glider into the sunset.
For manufacturers of joint care supplements, this sort of aspirational and active baby boomer will translate into a steady stream of new users. There also will be an increase in interest among the sandwich generation, who soon will become caregivers for their baby boomer parents. “We’re [starting] to see Americans begin to understand preventative care, as well as responsive care,” said Dave Ritterbush, CEO of Joint Juice. “In the case of joint health, traditionally that market has been built by somebody who begins to have knee pain, etc. People now are beginning to understand that you can begin healthy diets and can be taking steps [toward better health] prior to the actual onset of anything.”
Another potential future sales driver of joint care solutions is today’s obese teenagers.
“When you listen to orthopedic specialists present, there is a lot of discussion these days on childhood obesity and overweight adolescence,” noted David Moore, VP consumer sales for Nutramax Labs. The longer time period that excess weight is carried on the body, the more damage is caused to the joints, and at a younger age. “For every pound of weight that you lose, your joint feels as though you lost 5 to 6 pounds,” Moore said. And since proper dieting isn’t working for these teenagers today, they very well may be in the supplement aisle looking for joint care solutions tomorrow.