The population of “ePharma” consumers is growing faster than growth of Internet users overall, according to Manhattan Research‘s ePharma Consumer report. In fact, the number of American adults seeking information on prescription drugs online has tripled in the last five years, now numbering 100 million health consumers.

This 9th version of the ePharma Consumer study looks at condition and health sites, video, ratings, search engines, product sites, wikis, and other online sources where consumers can access information on prescription drugs and conditions.

Meredith Abreu-Ressi, Vice President of Research at the firm, presented some top-line findings to a webinar audience today. She told the audience that while search continues to be a key tool among online health citizens, interest in video is growing. About 50% of ePharma consumers key into video for health information; in fact, 1 in 2 ePharma consumers prefers video to text due to their learning style (this is also true for many physicians who are more keen on video than text). Health video-viewing consumers value hearing from doctors and clinical experts in the videos. A key takeaway on health videos online is that they result in consumers following up the call-to-action resulting in 3/4 of viewers doing additional research. As Meredith puts it, health videos achieve “high active metrics.”

In addition to video, Meredith covered condition websites, another growing area for ePharma, in her discussion. Sometimes referred to as so-called “unbranded” sites, this term is getting muddied and misunderstood in the market. Thus, she suggested using the straightforward “condition site.” In this version of the study, Manhattan Research tracked around 50 sites sponsored by pharmaceutical companies. The sites lead to consumers doing additional research on both conditions and drugs available to treat the diseases. These results vary by site and therapeutic category.

Finally, Manhattan Research examined scores of product websites, from Ability to Zyprexa. Among the specific product sites, the top 10 in terms of percentage of traffic driven by ads were found to be:

1. NuvaRing
2. Latisse
3. Cialis
4. Boniva
5. Abilify
6. Gardasil
7. Yaz
8. Viagra
9. Levitra
10. Lunesta

These, too, yield call-to-action among consumer-viewers; for example, Brooke Shields, who is featured in the Latisse campaign, has her clinical results posted on the product website and the URL is shown in the ad.

Manhattan Research surveyed 6,575 American adults for the study in the fourth quarter of 2009. The survey sample included oversampling of patients with certain conditions to ensure statistical quality.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: What’s driving folks to become ePharma Consumers? As people age, they’re prescribed more prescription drugs, so some of the growth in that 100 million ePharma market base is among older people, for whom information about Rx’s becomes increasingly relevant. Furthermore, the issue of prescription drug costs is attracting more search among ePharma consumers who are growing more aware and sensitive to out-of-pocket payments for prescriptions. Finally, DTC’s calls-to-action spurs growth, as well, resulting in that tripling of the ePharma population over the past 5 years.

One of the interesting findings is to be found in the top 10 product sites based on traffic driven by DTC ads. Among the top ten, note the prevalence of oral contraceptives and erectile dysfunction products. These are highly consumer-facing product areas for which TV and print ads, broadly deployed, can drive traffic. Bone mass preservation, sleep, and looking good are also highly consumer-focused.

The issue of cost is also a fairly new one for Manhattan Research to cover, and it’s growing in importance. As health citizens are asked to pay more out-of-pocket for prescription drugs and other health costs, they could choose to self-ration or suspend taking important maintenance meds for diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, and other chronic conditions. Understanding the underlying motivations of health citizens is an important job for health marketers who are no longer ‘just’ in the business of manufacturing drugs — you’re in the business of managing health.