About.com users find drug ads more helpful in 2010, survey says

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Online drug ads are significantly more helpful this year, particularly with respect to side effect and safety information, according to an About.com survey of its users.

The survey found that 58% of respondents value side effects and safety information contained in an ad, up from 28% in 2009. Additionally, 51% said ads with information about a specific condition or disease are helpful (up from 29% in 2009), and 47% of respondents said information about how to cope with a condition or disease is helpful, compared with 20% in 2009, according to the survey.

Elements of a drug ad found to be most helpful, according to the survey, were printable health tips (40%), free trial offers (38%), and testimonials about people experiencing similar symptoms (29%). In 2009, just 18% of respondents said ads with free trial offers were helpful, the survey noted.

Responding to a question about which tones or formats of online healthcare ads are the most attention-grabbing, participants ranked humorous ads at the top (45%), followed by “visually appealing ads with a lot of color and nice pictures” at 44%. Ads with polls, quizzes and games were less attention-grabbing (28%), as were ads with social elements, such as a Facebook share component (14%), the survey found.

“Health users are increasingly looking to relevant advertisements as decision-making tools, when those ad messages are properly connected to the consumer's need or goal,” said Evan Minskoff, VP, marketing, at the About Group, in a statement on the survey.

Other findings include an increase in the total number of scripts filled in 2010. Eighty percent of survey respondents said they had filled a script in the last six months, compared with 61% in 2009. Prescriptions for asthma and allergies nearly doubled, and scripts filled in the last six months for chronic pain increased from 10% in 2009, to 16% in 2010, according to the survey.

Using a search engine to research a new diagnosis or medical condition increased from 47% last year to 65% in 2010, and 47% of respondents said they use a search engine to learn about different treatment options directly after a diagnosis, compared with 16% in 2009, the survey said.

Survey respondents were gathered through an invitational pop-up on About.com, and the survey was also sent to About.com's user panel. Sample size was 1,321 respondents in 2010, and 1,870 in 2009, according to the survey's methodology.  

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