Easy navigation beats out trustworthiness for health info, survey finds

Photo credit: Leon Lee/Creative Commons

Consumers are more likely to use health information websites they find easier to navigate than those they perceive as trustworthy, like government or nonprofit sites, according to new research by Makovsky.

"They are saying they're willing to forego trust to have easier-to-access information," said SVP Tom Jones, Makovsky's healthcare practice leader. "It's all about the patient experience."

More than a thousand Americans ages 18 and older were surveyed in the sixth annual Makovsky/Kelton "Pulse of Online Health" survey.

"The government groups and advocacy organizations that have a lot of content have to make their information more accessible and easy to use, and make the customer experience more like what the other sites are doing," he said.

See also: 6 insights into today's healthcare consumer

WebMD ranks high on ease of use at 53%, but lower on trust at 39%. Yet, consumers will go to WebMD before they go to a government site, Jones said.

Advocacy group online resources ranked the highest in trustworthiness (59%), yet were among the least visited by consumers (16%) – only slightly higher than visits to pharma-sponsored websites (12%).

Pharmaceutical websites were among the least easy-to-use websites, despite the fact that consumers are increasingly going to their doctors and asking for drug treatments by name.

"Partnership is a trend that's been going on for a long time, but in our survey it's the value of the shifting doctor-patient relationship [increasing]," Jones said. "Doctors are still the most trusted source of information, but patients are increasingly turning to other [sources]."

Jones said he was surprised by how patients get their information. The survey said 70% of patients are willing to use mobile apps to find treatment options, but for searching symptoms before they go to the doctor, patients prefer their computers.

Last year 26% of consumers looked up treatments on their mobile devices. This year, it's up to 31%, Jones said.

Jones gave some advice to pharma companies looking to drive more traffic to their sites.

See also: Mobile's role in healthcare is still experimental

"Shorten the distance between the time patients are thinking of their medications and the pharma company website," he said.

"People are looking for treatment on their mobile devices at their doctor's office or at the pharmacy," he said. "How accessible is the information about your brand on the mobile devices? It's more than being mobile optimized. How can we engage with them right there on the device."

The survey noted that millennials are playing right into healthcare marketers. "They are more digitally savvy, they're more motivated, responsive, faster to respond to the information," Jones said.

The survey said 61% of patients reported that they were likely to ask for a specific prescription medication by name, implying research prior to appointments, with millennials the most likely generational group to ask for a specific prescription medication by name (70%).

Following a doctor's visit, 62% of patients reported being likely to research a prescribed treatment online, while 53% reported being likely to research an alternative treatment to the one prescribed by their doctor.

Among generational groups, millennials are by far the most receptive to pharmaceutical marketing and, while millennials have a reputation for leading digitally-centric lives, data show they are influenced across a variety of mediums.

More than half of all millennials (51%) would be motivated by an advertisement (TV, print, or online) to visit a pharma-sponsored website, while just 36% of Gen Xers and 26% of baby boomers would be similarly motivated by advertising.

The survey said millennials are also quick to click the first link in online search, demonstrating the effectiveness of paid search with this generation.

"Information is part of the cure," Jones said. "The better the information and the more you share with your doctor, the better the dialogue."

This story originally appeared in PRWeek.