Key European consumer and physician eHealth trends for 2011

Maureen Malloy and James Avallone

Manhattan Research

The Internet has drastically changed how both consumers and physicians gather medical information and consume media. This is having a ripple effect on the patient-physician relationship, the empowerment of consumers and how physicians make prescribing decisions, among other things. These and other economic shifts in the pharmaceutical market are forcing many pharma companies to aggressively reexamining ways to stay relevant in this new digital and on-demand market, including the potential of implementing a more service-based approach for interacting with customers. Manhattan Research’s recent research of consumers and physicians in Italy, Spain, France, Germany and the United Kingdom (to be defined as “Europe” for this article) explores these questions:

 

“More than 150 million consumers in Europe are online for health – up from 112 million in 2007”

 

How are European consumers using the Internet for health?

Consumer adoption of the health web is growing in Europe. More than 150 million consumers in Europe are online for health – up from 112 million in 2007. Among consumers accessing the Internet, nine in ten leverage the health web and this likelihood increases if a consumer has a chronic disease or is a caregiver. Additionally, consumers aren’t just going online in response to new symptoms or health concerns, but are looking up information after receiving a diagnosis, to make treatment decisions, and for condition management.

 

Figure 1: E-Empowered Consumer behaviors

Another key trend is the increasing use of the Internet to research prescription drugs among consumers. Due in part to the highly regulated healthcare advertising environment and lower pharma brand awareness, online pharma information seeking is considerably lower in Europe than in the U.S. Still, this population of ePharma Consumers is steadily rising – from 55 million consumers online for prescription drug information in 2008 to 75 million in 2010.

In addition to gathering health information online, a substantial share of European consumers is markedly influenced by the resources they find online. About half of European consumers using the Internet for health are E-Empowered Consumers – engaging in actions such as discussing information with their doctor, challenging diagnoses, or changing healthcare decisions as a result of online content. This finding indicates that the health web is going beyond simply adding to consumers’ knowledgebase to motivating a change in health behavior.

 

“In addition to gathering health information online, a substantial share of European consumers is markedly influenced by the resources they find online.”

 

How are European physicians integrating the Internet and technology into their practices?

The Internet has become a critical component of physician workflow as they continue to shift their learning and research to online channels. Physician adoption of online CME, journals, conferences, and news has shown double digit growth since 2007 and now physicians are about just as likely to access these types of professional resources online as they are offline. Currently, the average online European physician spends 7 hours (nearly a full workday) each week using the Internet or email for professional purposes and most feel that the Internet is essential to their practice.

Contrary to myths about physicians being digital laggards, physicians in Europe are advanced when it comes to using newer media and technology, particularly in the practice of medicine. Watching videos, online shopping, and downloading multimedia files are mainstream activities among physicians, and they are significantly more likely than consumers to use smart mobile devices and apps. In the professional realm, adoption of online video, podcasting and instant messaging for researching clinical and treatment information have all increased substantially since 2007.

To what extent is the health web affecting the patient-physician relationship?

While widely used as an information source by consumers and physicians, the Internet is not being extensively used to actively manage patient care on an ongoing basis. We’re not yet at the point where technology is fully leveraged to facilitate electronic exchanges of data between patients and physicians, such as from condition management programs, personal health tracking, treatment adherence services and other advanced health tools. We’ll begin to see more headway in this area as sophisticated consumer electronics become more mainstream, health technology providers refine their products, and various healthcare stakeholders work towards better integrating this technology into healthcare delivery.

However, the health web is still playing a meaningful role in the patient-physician relationship today, especially when it comes to patient education. Over half of online European physicians recommend health websites to their patients and relatively few feel negatively towards patients bringing up online information during consults. This is good news that physicians are starting to see the value of the health web for the patient-physician relationship, since HCP buy-in is a major factor in pushing towards a more “connected” health ecosystem.

Are there opportunities for pharma to support patient-physician relationship?

Research indicates that consumers and physicians do want pharma to be part of the conversation. About half of Europeans online for health say they are interested in online patient education programs from pharma companies. On the physician side, half of this audience expects online customer service from pharma and three-quarters would like sales reps to let them know about patient education websites from pharma.

 

“…these findings suggest there is an opportunity for pharma to support the patient-physician relationship.”

 

Although highly regulated markets across Europe make it challenging for pharma to launch these types of initiatives, these findings suggest there is an opportunity for pharma to support the patient-physician relationship. Pharma companies could consider creating tools and services to help bridge the digital divide between patients and healthcare providers and encourage consumers to shift from using the health web just for information and more for condition management and tracking. Initiatives such as the Man MOT program that Pfizer UK is piloting gives consumers real-time access to health experts online. This is an example of how pharma could provide ways for consumers to vet and organize the content they find online before having informed discussions with their doctor.

References:

1. Cybercitizen Health® Europe v10.0 surveyed 3,000 adults online (age 18+) in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom and was released in Q4 2010.

2. Taking the Pulse® Europe v10.0 surveyed 1,224 practicing physicians in the same countries and was also released in Q4 2010.

About the authors:

Maureen Malloy is a Senior Healthcare Analyst at Manhattan Research. She can be reached at mmalloy@manhattanresearch.com

James Avallone is a Senior Digital Healthcare Analyst at Manhattan Research. He can be contacted at javallone@manhattanresearch.com

Manhattan Research, a Decision Resources, Inc. company, is a global pharmaceutical and healthcare market research and strategic advisory firm. We conduct annual research studies covering eHealth trends among healthcare professionals and consumers in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. Broad research can be segmented by target specialist and therapeutic audiences. For more information about eHealth behaviors and pharma opportunities relevant to your target segments, please visit www.manhattanresearch.com or email sales@manhattanresearch.com.

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