Do HCPs and Patients Believe Pharmaceutical Company Websites?

According to a study by Pew Internet & American Life Project1, over 80% of online users (that’s 93 million Americans) use the web to search for health-related information. Most people prefer to use the Internet to answer their health-related questions and find healthcare providers. Physicians and other HCPs use the internet to keep up with a rapidly changing medical environment. But how important are pharmaceutical companies in these searches? Are pharmaceutical websites considered a trusted source of information by physicians looking for scientific information? What about patients? Do they trust the information on these sites?  Or do most people assume pharmaceutical websites are so biased and self-promotional that they can’t be trusted?  

Syneos Health Communications reported on a 2017 survey by Clarivate that revealed only 34% of physicians feel that pharmaceutical websites are trustworthy.2 Even fewer (approximately 25% of the 2,784 doctors surveyed) see pharma websites as credible sources for professional information. But that same survey did show that these HCPs are not as skeptical of all digital sources as more than 75% saw third-party HCP websites as credible. Some pharma companies are reacting to that insight by leveraging those third-party sites, but not necessarily in the ways that builds customer trust: 62% of the respondents feel all pharma contents on those sites “are always ads.”

As reported by MM+M news3, patients are going to pharma brand websites in droves for medical information, according to a survey from Doctor.com4

As reported by MM+M news3, patients are going to pharma brand websites in droves for medical information, according to a survey from Doctor.com4, but many patients want these websites to be a one-stop-shop for treatment information, finding a doctor, and booking appointments. More than half (52%) use pharma and medical device companies’ websites to research treatment, about the same percentage as those who refer to their doctors for treatment information (54%). Approximately 88% want pharma brand websites to feature a find-a-doctor directory, according to the survey, and 81% are more likely to use a brand website that has a doctor directory.

To see how pharmaceutical companies are currently using the web, we audited several big pharma websites in a qualitative way. The good news is that while we found a full mix of styles, most of the companies exhibit a more unbranded, patient-centric, fact-based approach and shy away from too promotion of products. However, we found that almost all profess to “Creating a Healthier Planet” and tout their accomplishments far too much.  This made it hard in most cases to navigate quickly through the feel-good stories in any given pharmaceutical website to find clinically relevant information.   Interestingly, the Clarivate study also found that while 86% of physicians access digital resources for professional purposes, 41% of them don’t visit pharma websites more often due to the amount of time it takes to find the information they need.

Bottom Line

What physicians and patients need are educational resources and scientific information on drugs (both sophisticated and patient-friendly) to help them make better treatment decisions. Physicians are saying it’s crucial for drugmakers to provide educational resources rooted in science to gain their trust.  Patients want to know how to seek care and how safe and effective it is to do so. They both want easy to access facts and unbiased information on diseases, testing, and treatment. The ability of pharmaceutical companies to meet this demand will be essential to building trust and nurturing relationships with both the HCP as well as the patient.