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Health Info on Internet Undermines Physicians, Pharma Companies

Holmes Report  18 Nov 2012

The dominant role of the Internet as source of information poses a challenge to the German healthcare sector, particularly for doctors and the pharmaceutical industry, according to a new healthcare survey conducted by MSL Germany and research company SKOPOS.

Physicians generally still enjoy a healthy reputation within the German population. However, their former quasi-monopolistic position regarding information has been undermined by the Internet. Meanwhile, content the pharmaceutical industry offers online is generally not trusted, perhaps a symptom of the general distrust in the industry.

The Internet is by far the most important source of information for Germans when it comes to general healthcare topics. About three-fourths of the German population (74 percent) say they use the Internet regularly (42 percent) or occasionally (32 percent) in this context. And 63 percent obtain their information regularly or occasionally via TV, followed by print media (56 percent) as well as friends and family (54 percent).

Physicians (41 percent) and pharmacists (34 percent) play a secondary role regarding general information. When it comes to more specific issues, more than half of the population consults physicians and pharmacists (53 percent each). The most popular sources are Wikipedia and websites of health insurance companies, both of which are consulted by 55 percent.

But when it comes to trustworthy web content, physicians and healthcare insurances are the German consumers’ favorites. About half of the respondents believe that content on doctors’ websites is trustworthy, closely followed by insurers. The lowest level of trust can be observed toward comments by anonymous users (9 percent), content in social networks (13 percent), content provided by the pharmaceutical industry (19 percent) and by bloggers (20 percent).

“It is shocking for the pharmaceutical industry to see that even validated information on their web sites is not trusted,” says Wigan Salazar, CEO of MSLGroup Germany. “However, it is not an option for the industry to give up on Internet communication. Our study shows that expert issue management and a transparent dialogue can help build trust.

“Physicians need to offer more than information: scheduling appointments and consulting patients need to take place online. However, the reality is still different: most physicians do not engage in a true online conversation with their patients. Doctors clearly need to step up here.”


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