The number of people searching for prescription drug information online has tripled in five years, according to the latest insights from Manhattan Research‘s ePharma Consumer study.

90 million Americans looked for Rx information in 2008, compared with 25 million in 2003, Mark Bard, the president of Manhattan Research (MR), told a group of webinar attendees on 9th February 09. Bard and his team at MR call these 90 million, “ePharma Consumers.”

Fewer than 50 million people searched online for any health information in 2002; that reached 150 million in 2008.

MR’s database is very rich and large, enabling the firm to examine subgroups of people searching conditions from “A to V:” from acid reflux to Viagra.

Who is the average ePharma Consumer? He/she is married with median income of $55,400, and is 41 years old (the mean age). She is equally probable of being a He.

What’s striking about this year’s ePharma Consumer poll is the proliferation of sites that citizens are using to access prescription drug information. General health portals such as WebMD, EverydayHealth, Yahoo!, Mayo Clinic, Drugs.com, and Drugstore.com are core health consumer destinations. But increasingly, ePharma Consumers are looking to blogs, government sites (esp. CDC, FDA, and NIH), wikis, and drug ratings sites.

A growing destination for ePharma Consumers is online video. Including but not limited to YouTube, citizens are visiting WebMD and AOL to view videos not just for pure information, but to learn “how to’s” such as tips for self-injecting meds where the image-in-action adds value to the online experience.

The number of health insurance company sites is also a fast-growing category, even for ePharma visitors.

And then there’s Google: still the granddaddy of health search, and for ePharma searchers, too. New this year is MR’s ability to help clients do search analytics on Google, targeting organic search, paid search (in the main results or on the “right-side” of the page), etc. One intriguing finding Bard mentioned was that older ePharma consumers are more likely to click on paid-search results.

40% of ePharma Consumers visited pharmaceutical corporate websites in 2008. Johnson & Johnson’s site appeared to be the most highly rated, albeit not the most-visited; more visited sites included Pfizer, Merck and GSK.

Manhattan Research polled 6,566 U.S. adults 18 and over online in the fourth quarter of 2008.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: ePharma Consumers, and I would posit health citizens overall, use different websites at different times on the health care continuum. Consider the newly-diagnosed individual with a new prescription versus someone who has been managing diabetes for a decade and is looking for some disruptive innovation in personal chronic care.

One key finding stands out for me in this version of the ePharma Consumer data: that is, consumers’ high value on the pharma company’s quality of online service. This extends to user-friendliness, accessible information, clear explanations, transparency, and coupons as money-saving tools.

While coupons have been the most visible financial feature on pharma company websites, I was interested to see that sites are beginning to help health consumers navigate the very cloudy world of formularies. Clearly, pharma cos. realize that access to their products is the lifeblood of a brand. Consumers want to know, before the point-of-purchase, where a prescription drug sits on their particular formulary. Symbicort provides this link to Fingertip Formulary on its branded website, which I view as a high-value customer service.

In fact, 4 in 5 ePharma Consumers told MR they’re interested in pricing information on their prescription drugs. Here’s someplace where pharma manufacturers can provide a service and, at the same time, bring consumers back to learn about compliance programs and lifestyle/health tips for living a better life. Consumers are expecting a higher level of online customer service from their pharma companies. Those who do this will be better placed with health consumers than those who do not heed this important piece of data that Manhattan Research has unearthed.

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