Impact of Internet penetration, The

impact of Internet penetration, The

McKillen, Dan

Datamonitor’s latest survey shows that the younger they are, the more time they spend online; and more women than men are actively seeking health information.

The results of an ongoing Datamonitor’s survey, called IMPACT, found that Internet penetration is starting to level off at 78 percent in the United States, and women are emerging as the primary health information retrievers. These findings, released last July, were based on in-depth telephone interviews with a statistically representative sample of 4,531 adult consumers interviewed across France, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States

Most people, 65 percent in this study, think they are more conscious of their health than the population in general. While many of these self-proclaimed health conscious people use the Internet, most of them have not looked for health related information on the Web in the past year. This may be due to their good health status or possibly some skepticism about the information they might find on the Internet. As these Internet users gain more experience they will find that the Web offers just as much health and wellness advice as information about disease management. The authors of the IMPACT study believe pharmaceutical marketers should find ways to reach this health conscious population and draw them to their Web offerings.

Health information channels

Even though the Internet continues to penetrate more homes, schools, libraries, and other venues, physicians are still the primary source of health information the survey found. Seventy-six percent of respondents in the survey indicated they sought health information from their physician in the past year. The combination of other media such as television, books, and magazines were cited by 73 percent of respondents, and 53 percent have received health information from friends and family. This is compared to 57 percent of people who used online sources of health information. (See Figure 1 above.)

Going online reduces the stigma sometimes associated with face-to-face contact. It’s amazing how many people visit their physicians and never mention problems like erectile dysfunction, incontinence, or drug use because they are ashamed or embarrassed to discuss these topics with their doctor. Getting information from the Internet can help with an initial diagnosis in a confidential environment but these Web consults should be used as a catalyst for conversations with their physician not as a means of treatment.

Popular online health information

When Datamonitor asked the survey respondents which health topics they search for on the Internet, information about living a healthy lifestyle was the most popular answer. This might explain why Web sites like eDiets.com are faring well here in the United States. Women’s health is also a very popular topic with over 50 percent of women, and a surprising 20 percent of men seeking information about this subject.

In almost all cases, women are more active health information seekers than men, the three exceptions being the men’s health, HIV/AIDS, and cardiovascular problems categories, according to the survey. Not only are women more health conscious than men in general, they also tend to be in charge of family health matters as well. They are more likely to search for information about ear infections for their children or Parkinson’s Disease for a parent. Pharmaceutical marketers offering information on their Web sites might want to prominently feature information for women on the home page.

Who’s online

While it’s true the younger generation is more active on the Internet, this will change as the population ages. People over the age of 65 don’t spend much time on the Internet right now. According to the survey, only 14 percent of the over 65 crowd went online in the past year. There seems to be an attitude that suggests, “I’ve made it this far without the Internet, I’m not going to jump in now.” However, the age group right behind them realize there’s a lot more living and learning to do. Twenty-seven percent of the 55- to 64-year-olds use the Internet and the usage gets higher for each younger age group. Thirty-four percent of the 18 to 54 group use the Internet to search for health information. So, for the time being, it appears that the younger people are doing the health searches on behalf of older family members. In the future, it is anticipated that these veteran users will continue to use the Web and they will be supplemented by even younger users who will think of the Internet much like their parents thought of the telephone.

Datamonitor predicts that pharmaceutical company Web sites will become increasingly popular as the population ages. Elderly people tend to take more medications and product sites are ideal places for Internet users to check information about side effects, drug interactions, and contraindications for products that they or a family member are taking. There is already evidence of drug sites that cater to an aging population with options to view materials in larger size print and the availability of other tools like medication reminders and diaries. Coupons and customized news are also gaining in popularity as drug marketers look for ways to make visits to their product Web sites more valuable to the end user. Look for product sites to add new features in the future as Web visits to these sites increase over the next few years.

To obtain a copy of Datamonitor’s IMPACT survey, contact Elizabeth Freeman: efreeman@datamonitor.com

Copyright CPS Communications Nov 2002

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