US consumers seeking health information online are more likely to visit Wikipedia than health magazine websites or Facebook, connect through a PC rather than a mobile device, and be swayed by word of mouth over direct-to-consumer advertising, according to results from a new national consumer survey conducted by Makovsky Health and Kelton.

The research investigates consumers’ overall engagement with online healthcare information, and reveals specific consumer preferences for online publishing sources, channels and even devices, and finds that consumers rate government agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Food and Drug Administration and advocacy organizations among the most credible.

“Whether they want guidance for an informed conversation with their doctor, or the support of a larger community coping with the same illness, consumers seek trusted sources for health information,” says Gil Bashe, executive vice president and Practice director, Makovsky Health. “These new survey results enhance our understanding of how and with whom consumers connect online, and help ensure that credible, useful information is readily accessible to the patients who need it.”

Adds Tom Bernthal, CEO of research consultancy Kelton: “The macro-trend—globally and in the US—is moving from web to mobile. Yet, when it comes to healthcare, data show the desktop search is vastly preferred, meaning the newest channels might not be best for healthcare marketers.”

People are still most likely to use a personal computer (90 percent)—and not a smartphone (7 percent) or tablet (4 percent)—to search for health information online. And PC-reliant consumers are more likely than smartphone/tablet-reliant consumers to visit a pharma website after receiving a diagnosis from their doctor (52 percent vs. 31 percent), although smartphone/tablet users are far more likely than PC users (43 percent vs. 24 percent) to visit a pharma website after they experience a few symptoms.

If seeking information about their own medical conditions, consumers trust advocacy group and
government agency websites nearly as much (33 percent) as they trust websites with medical information, such as WebMD (35 percent). And a personal recommendation from a friend, family member or colleague (33 percent) is a stronger motivator to visit a pharma website than TV advertisements (27 percent), magazine advertisements (14 percent), digital advertisements (13 percent), or discounts (16 percent).

Consumers also report an overall preference for externally-sourced information, though user-generated content on Wikipedia is gaining high levels of trust:
• 56 percent of Americans use WebMD for healthcare information
• 31 percent visit Wikipedia, which has emerged as a trusted source of credible information, an increase of 13 percent from Makovsky Health’s 2011 survey
• 29 percent visit health magazine websites online (e.g., Prevention, Women’s Health)
• Social networking sites are utilized by far fewer Americans for healthcare information: Facebook (17 percent), YouTube (15 percent), blogs (13 percent), and Twitter feeds with links to other resources (6 percent)

In the context of Facebook, consumers are just as likely to rank a pharma company-generated page about a specific medication (9 percent) as their most trusted Facebook source as they are a pharma company’s disease-state page (6 percent), far lower than Facebook content generated by sources such as government agencies or patient groups. 
But when it comes to news and announcements from a company, consumers are most likely to believe traditional sources:
• 53 percent are most likely to believe company news from a press release
• 29 percent are most apt to believe what is posted on a company website
• Official corporate Facebook pages are a distant third (12 percent), while only 2 percent have the strongest faith in company news posted on Twitter