Holidays are a Peak Time for Health-Related Search

At Thanksgiving, family members come home for the holidays, after months, even years, apart.  When that much time passes between visits with siblings and parents, health problems that may have gone unnoticed in day to day life are suddenly more pronounced and obvious.

Serious health concerns like alcohol abuse quickly become evident to everyone at the party. Age-related issues such as hearing loss or vision problems, which can develop slowly over time, may suddenly be quite noticeable. Finally, people often take the opportunity to share difficult health news when surrounded by supportive relatives during the holidays, leading family members to search online for help, information and understanding.

Knowing how patients and their families search for medical information can be very valuable for healthcare marketers, particularly at this time of year. The Pew Internet and American Life Project was developed in March 2000 to better understand “how people’s internet use affected their families, communities, health care, educational pursuits, civic and political life and workplace activities” and is a wonderful resource for anyone charged with healthcare marketing efforts.

Last week, the organization updated their Pew Internet: Health research which revealed a “remarkably stable trend” – 85% of US adults use the internet and 59% of those same people search online for health information.  Pew Internet states that this data reflects a trend that dates back to 2002. But how people search and share is changing.

Mobile Healthcare Search
Pew Internet found that 31% of cell phone owners, and 52% of smartphone owners, have used their phone to search for health- and medical-related information. They advise that “this finding is of particular interest to those interested in trends related to young people, Latinos, and African Americans, since these groups are significantly more likely than other groups to have mobile internet access.” The Mobile Health 2012 survey result including survey questions is available on the Pew website.

Sharing Healthcare Information with Peers
In its Peer-to-Peer healthcare survey, Pew Internet is watching “how the internet is changing people’s relationships with health information and with each other,” and indicates that “the default setting for people with health questions is ‘I don’t know, but I can try to find out’”.

  • 34% of internet users, or 25% of U.S. adults, have read someone else’s commentary or experience about health or medical issues on an online news group, website or blog.
  • 24% of internet users, or 18% of adults, have consulted online reviews of particular drugs or medical treatments.
  • 18% of internet users, or 13% of adults, have gone online to find others who might have health concerns similar to theirs.

Pew Internet has found that people are willing to share their health-related knowledge and experiences with others when presented with an opportunity or vehicle to post comments or opinions. “I know, and I want to share my knowledge” is the leading edge of health care, states Pew.

  • 6% of internet users, or 4% of adults, have posted comments, questions or information about health or medical issues on a website of any kind, such as a health site or news site that allows comments and discussion.
  • 4% of internet users, or 3% of adults, have posted their experiences with a particular drug or medical treatment. 

This willingness to share when given the opportunity would seem to open the door for healthcare marketers who want to initiate and encourage conversation about their products, treatments and providers. But healthcare, like finance, is highly-regulated, and marketers have had to tread carefully when it comes to content marketing. In fact, at the recent Content Marketing World Health Summit, the results of a survey of more than 2400 marketers revealed that content marketing efforts in healthcare are lagging two years behind other industries. 

As healthcare marketers gain a greater understanding of how, when and where patients and prospective patients search and share online, they can create content that delivers the appropriate message at the right time to each individual and direct them to the proper resources, whether that be print material (still widely used in healthcare marketing), informative videos, interactive tools, provider locators and most importantly, opportunities to connect and share with other patients seeking the same answers. A solid content marketing plan that puts special emphasis on the holiday season to capitalize on the rise in health-related search is a must for any healthcare marketer.

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