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7 Consumer Online Trends that Impact Healthcare Marketing: 2013 Research

Are you a healthcare marketer who is interested in consumer online trends?

Would you like to know how online health seekers could impact your marketing efforts in 2013?

online consumer trends

Internet users seeking healthcare information will significantly impact your online marketing strategy

In this article I examine a recent report published by Pew Research, in which 3,014 adults living in the U.S. were surveyed to find out how and why they use the Internet to answer their healthcare questions.

Here are 7 of the most interesting findings from the study:

#1. 1 in 3 U.S. adults use the Internet to diagnose a medical condition

35% of American adults said they go online specifically to try to figure out what medical condition they or someone else might have. These were referred to in the report as ‘online diagnosers.’ Based on the information gathered 53% of online diagnosers said they went on to speak with a doctor about what they found online.

Key Takeaway: A significant number of American adults start their health inquiries online. If the answers they’re looking for are on your website, chances are pretty good that they will follow up with you to discuss their medical condition. Make sure that your website is frequently updated with fresh content that provides answers to common questions patients might ask.

#2. 8 out of 10 online health questions start at search engine

77% of online health seekers said they begin their research at a search engine i.e. Google, Bing or Yahoo. Another 13% said they start at a site that provides specialized health information such as WebMD. Only 1% start their research on Facebook or other social networking sites.

Key Takeaway: It’s not enough to have a website these days. You need to make sure that your website is found when people search for specific health information online. Learn how to use the Google Keyword Tool to optimize your content so that people can easily find the information they’re looking for on your website. Also consider starting a Google+ community to educate people about their health. Google will reward you with a high search rank just for having a community of your own!

#3. 1/2 of online health questions are on behalf of someone else

39% of online health seekers said they looked for information on behalf of someone else. However another 15%  of users said they were looking for information for themselves and for someone else. Parents were more likely than non-parents to look for information on behalf of someone else i.e. their children.

Key Takeaway: A growing number of adults act as caregivers to someone else in the family. When creating content for your website or blog don’t forget about them. Be sure to write articles that are relevant and helpful to them. If you’re not sure what kind of content resonates with caregivers you’ll find it worth your time and resources to hire a consultant to help you develop specific personas or profiles for content marketing.

#4. Specific diseases dominate people’s online questions

55% of online health seekers said they looked online for information about a specific disease or medical treatment in the last twelve months. The study also found that women were more likely than men to search for specific health information, as were internet users with higher levels of education.

Specific health info

Key Takeaway: As people look to more specific information about medical conditions and treatments, specialists in different categories should research and leverage exact search terms that are most popular among searchers.

Understand too the difference between general phrases e.g. eczema and long-tail phrases e.g. ‘cures for eczema’. Usually long-tail phrases pull a much lower search volume than general phrases. But this could work to your advantage. If your goal is to attract a specific type of audience, using long-tail search terms will filter off less relevant searchers, and focus on more precise consumer profiles for your brand.

#5. Young adults & minorities lead in mobile health information search

One of the more interesting findings from the study showed that Latinos, African-Americans,  people between the ages of 18 and 49, and those with some college education used their phones more to access health or medical information online. These groups accounted for 31% of U.S. adults who own a cell phone.

Mobile demographics

Image Source: Pew Research

Key Takeaway: A person’s likelihood to use their cell phone for health information search is amplified by the demographic factors mentioned above. This is key for marketers who target specific demographic audiences. It’s not enough to understand their pain points. It is equally important to know their digital habits particularly for consuming health information. For practices that target these groups, mobile content optimization should be a critical part of your marketing plan.

#6. Consumers not that interested in online reviews

Pew has been tracking the use of consumer reviews since 2000. They found that while 8 in 10 users say they have researched a product or service online, only 1 in 5 users have used online reviews and rankings of healthcare service providers and treatments. In fact the use of online reviews dipped between 2010 and 2012. Only 18% use online reviews today compared to 24% in 2010.

Key Takeaway: This is good news for healthcare marketers who worry that negative reviews might ruin their brand. But it still doesn’t let you off the hook in terms of providing excellent services and ensuring customer satisfaction .

If you see a negative online review of your brand be sure to address the complaint promptly and offer a solution that will satisfy the consumer. This will show other searchers that you are a caring brand. However don’t get too bent out of shape if the situation doesn’t end the way you want. Remember that consumers are not as focused on reviews as you are, so let it go.

#7. 1 in 4 searches have hit a “pay wall”

26% of online health searchers said they have been asked to pay for access to something they wanted to see online. 73% have not faced this choice. But of those who were asked to pay, only 2% did so while 83% hit a pay wall and tried to find the same information somewhere else. Another 13% of those who hit a pay wall just gave up searching altogether.

Key Takeaway: This is a tricky one. Not all health information can be given away for free. Oftentimes healthcare researchers and marketers work hard to develop ‘expert’ content and they are justified in selling this information.

But you also don’t want to lose audiences who may not be able to pay. One option is to use ‘teaser content’.  Allowing the reader to access a small portion of the report and then requiring payment to download the full report, may persuade a person to pay based on the little they’ve already have seen. Another strategy is to write a short blog post about the overall report. While this does not reveal specifics it may help to keep readers from drifting away to other sites.

Over to you: Which of these findings did you find most interesting or insightful? Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.


  1. Curatio Technologies says:

    Excellent and informative article. We have recently launched – An online healthcare marketing hub. I find that all the seven findings are quite useful for our prospects.

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