The Pew Internet & American Life Project today issued another in its continual and valuable series providing us with data on how people are using the Intenet and social media for purposes of navigating their own healthcare and that for people for whom they care. The report, The Social Life of Health Information, confirms prior findings, yields new ones, and gives information that can inform how stakeholders – such as those who manufacture medical treatments, as well as the FDA itself, in providing guidance to that industry in utilizing this increasingly vital means of communications that has become ubiquitous in the way we communicate, educate ourselves and make healthcare decisions.
First a summary of the findings:
- 80% of internet users have looked online for information about any of 15 health topics such as a specific disease or treatment. This translates to 59% of all adults.
- 34% of internet users, or 25% of adults, have read someone else’s commentary or experience about health or medical issues on an online news group, website, or blog.
- 25% of internet users, or 19% of adults, have watched an online video about health or medical issues.
- 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.
- 16% of internet users, or 12% of adults, have consulted online rankings or reviews of doctors or other providers.
- 15% of interest users, or 11% of adults, have consulted online rankings or reviews of hospitals or other facilities.
In addition, there were other significant findings. First, the report confirmed that those patients with chronic conditions are more likely to be using social media to do one of three things –
- read someone else’s commentary online;
- watch a health video and
- sign up to receive emails or other information about a condition or topic.
Also important to note:
- wireless users out pace other types of users in social media and the Internet;
- not only are those with chronic conditions more likely to be using the Internet for health information, it is also a significant resource for care partners as well;
- one-fifth of adult users go online to find others with health concerns similar to their own.
Those aren’t just interesting facts, they point both pharma and the FDA in very particular directions to the development of content and identify a key target audiences.
For industry specifically, the very fact that video appears to be having an increasing role says something important for the direction of future communications via social media and the Internet. And given the sorry state of affairs when it comes to pharma’s use of YouTube, there is certainly work to be done. And clearly, people are not looking for video that is going to be a DTC ad. Rather they would appear to be looking for information about conditions and looking for other patients like them who have been through a similar experience. That informs what a lot of content should be and confirms the approaches taken by some companies like Johnson & Johnson’s YouTube Channel JNJHealth.
And for FDA in particular, there is not only a treasure trove of information that would help inform both its content and guidance development, it also is demonstrative that there are other ways to gather essential information about Internet use beyond the creaky, out-moded and apparently ineffectual ways that the FDA has gone about it. Large public meetings that fail to generate policy guidance erode credibility and relevance quickly while smart studies like this are essential. It is past time to be more fleet of foot and creative, and way past time to do its job in developing better guidance. The horse has left the barn. FDA should be partnering with Pew and other organizations like it who know how to do research quickly and effectively; set up a more nimble method for policy development, even if it is through an advisory committee approach and abandon the guidance system with respect to the Internet and social media.
Finally, another significant and striking finding was that one in four adult users consult online reviews of drugs or treatments, but only 4% have posted their experiences with a particular drug or treatment. That could mean that impressions of a treatment for many are being formed by a very few. Further research would be needed to bear this out and to identify the characteristics of those who are inclined to record their experiences.
There is more, much more in this valuable report that informs all stakeholders on future strategic communications in this vital media that has become ubiquitous.