The average physician currently spends a full work day [about eight hours] a week using the Internet for professional reasons, a significant jump from only 2.5 hours in 2002, according to the results of a white paper titled: “How Digital is Shaping the Future of Pharmaceutical Marketing,” released by Manhattan Research.

The trend of shifting to digital channels is expected to continue too, as physicians expect to increase their use of online resources. Data from the white paper indicate that professional content that have been feeling “the shift” the most are clinical textbooks/references, journals, conferences, news and continuing medical education (CME).

Mobile technology, according to Manhattan Research, has played a significant role in increasing physicians’ dependency on online resources. Sixty-four percent of doctors own smart phones and are using them to supplement their desk or laptop computer usage to be “always on.”

In addition, mobile devices help physicians to access clinical resources at multiple points throughout their day, even at the point-of-care. Physicians prefer to conduct easy tasks such as information-checking on mobile devices, while leaving more complex activities like CME for completion on their PCs, according to data from the white paper. But as mobile browsing capabilities improve, physicians will start to use smart phones for more advanced activities than just reference purposes.

Physician engagement in Web 2.0 has been one of the hottest topics over the past few years, according to data from the white paper. As a group, physicians have acclimated themselves to advanced online activities, such as watching streaming video and listening to podcasts, at a much faster rate than consumers. Doctors are also using social media more frequently.

Doctors are collaborating in online communities designed specifically for healthcare professionals; participation in these networks doubled between 2008 and 2009. According to Manhattan Research, just as the professional channel mix is evolving, so is the traditional physician-sales rep relationship. Physicians are no longer limited to in-person details for information and updates on pharmaceutical products, but can easily seek out this type of information at any time via the Internet.

As a result of this, pharmaceutical companies are offering physician’s online customer services such as customer service portals, live video reps, interactive detailing, and e-sampling. Sales reps are also “digitalizing” their in-person visits with tools such as tablet PCs.

On the consumer side, 60% of the US adult population turn to the Internet as a tool to empower their healthcare decisions while, 60 million adults consume or contribute to health-related social media content including blogs and message boards.