Study: Most Consumers Use Internet to Compare Drug Benefits

So Marketers Need to Be Aware of What Other Sites Are Saying

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NEW YORK ( -- The immense growth in internet access is reshaping the business of marketing pharmaceuticals, according to Rodale's 10th annual national survey on the subject, which is scheduled for release at an industry luncheon later today. Only 28% of respondents 10 years ago said they were online; this year 81% did.

Rodale's Prevention, Men's Health and Women's Health magazines conducted a DTC drug survey with technical assistance from the FDA.

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"The No. 1 change in consumers in the last 10 years is their ability to access information on the web," said Carey Silvers, director-consumer and advertising trends at Rodale.

Comparing drugs
The web has changed consumers' responses to pharmaceutical ads, Mr. Silvers said. The percentage of respondents who want to know how an advertised medicine compares to another drug, for example, has grown to 61% in this year's study from 46% just two years ago.

"Consumers are learning about information-seeking on the internet -- for cars, for airfares," Mr. Silvers said. "So it's not an unreasonable expectation to say in health care that they'd want to compare one treatment vs. another."

It also means that the web has become the most important battleground outside doctors' offices for marketing drugs. "DTC has much more impact because of the ease with which people can get information," Mr. Silvers said.

Even as the internet helps amplify direct-to-consumer messages, though, it is also assuming a bigger role of its own alongside traditional health-care gatekeepers: doctors and pharmacists. So every property, from to, becomes an important part of the DTC landscape. Marketers also need to be aware of the sites out there that aren't there to help sell their drugs, such as this Adbusters article, "Big Headache for Big Pharma."

"The recommendation that we would have is that pharmaceutical companies and health-care providers are aware of this," Mr. Silvers said.

In other areas, the survey found:
  • Only 8% of consumers say they are stimulated to ask their doctors for a specific medicine after seeing it advertised, most "just talk."
  • Most consumers say they know a lot about their medical condition or illness (68%), the benefits of prescription medicines they take (67%) and the risks (59%).
  • Even after a prescription is filled, most consumers (75%) keep looking for more information about their medication. Many of those people (29%) still peruse related advertising.
  • More than half of consumers, 57%, agree or somewhat agree that DTC ads are done responsibly, a 2% gain over last year's results.
  • Most consumers "agree" or "somewhat agree" that direct-to-consumer drug ads allow people to be more involved in their healthcare.
  • Some 56% of consumers are on prescription medicine, up from 47% in the study 10 years ago.
Rodale said Prevention, Men's Health and Women's Health magazines conducted the survey with technical assistance from the Food and Drug Administration's division of drug marketing, advertising and communication.
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