Sixth Annual "Pulse of Online Search" Survey Finds Consumers Weighing Trust, Ease-of-Use When Seeking Health Guidance

NEW YORK, March 10, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- Consumers continue to leverage online search as a major source for health information and guidance – but despite clear opinions on the trustworthiness of different sources, ease-of-use appears more important than trust when it comes to choosing online health sites, according to new findings released today from the Sixth Annual Makovsky/Kelton "Pulse of Online Search" Survey. Fielded to 1,035 nationally representative Americans ages 18 and older, data further reveal that while the doctor-patient relationship remains integral to the healthcare equation, patients are actively seeking information online to supplement their conversations with healthcare professionals – particularly when it comes to treatment options.

"Online search is an essential part of consumer self-care and health education, but the way in which consumers leverage these resources continues to evolve," said Tom Jones, SVP and Practice Director, Makovsky Health. "In this year's survey, we saw significant shifts in consumer use of government agency health sites – calling out these sources as highly trustworthy, yet at the same time, few feel they are easy to use. Understanding this tug-of-war between trust and ease-of-use, in which ease-of-use ultimately wins, is incredibly important for health communicators and marketers seeking to reach consumers."

"The type of health information consumers seek online is changing, as well – with consumer behaviors clearly shifting from symptom-focused research to treatment-focused research, both before and after doctor visits," commented Alexandra Peterson, SVP and Practice Director, Makovsky Health. "Consumer actions to prepare for and then validate conversations with physicians via online search illustrate the balance between patient empowerment and desire for professional guidance. Combined with the fact that the majority of patients are likely to ask their doctor for a prescription by name, survey results show that patients are walking into the doctor's office armed with more information than ever, eager to have a more active role in the treatment discussion and decision."

Designed to uncover trends in consumer behaviors around online healthcare information use, the Sixth Annual Makovsky/Kelton Pulseof Online Search Survey also explores consumer response to pharmaceutical advertising, with results showing that Millennials may be the most receptive generation to advertising from pharmaceutical companies, across multiple channels.

Ease-of-Use Trumps Trust in Driving Consumer Use of Online Resources

Online health resources are extremely popular, chief among them being WebMD, which is visited by 53% of consumers seeking health information. However, consumers are not visiting these sites because of their perceived trustworthiness; rather, ease-of-use appears to be the differentiating factor:

  • Low marks in trustworthiness for WebMD (39%) and Wikipedia (26%) are offset by high marks in ease-of-use (56% and 55%, respectively).
  • 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%).

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Advocacy Groups




Health Systems (e.g., Mayo Clinic)




















Pharma Website








Survey results also herald the rise of health system website popularity, such as the Mayo Clinic. Health system websites earned high marks in trustworthiness (53%), ease-of-use (41%) and were second in utilization to WebMD (31%).

Patients Are Increasingly Using Technology to Supplement Doctor Visits

Doctors remain the most trusted source of medical information, trusted by 95% of consumers. However, consumers are increasingly leveraging online resources to both prepare for appointments and validate physician recommendations – moving beyond diagnosis to become more active in the treatment decision:

  • When asked what information they would first research online about a health condition, the number of consumers who said "treatment options" increased by 21% from 2015 to 2016, while those who said "symptoms" decreased by 14%.
  • 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 (69%).
  • 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.

Consumers also report an increased level of comfort in leveraging technology to access medical advice and communicate with doctors. Forty-three percent of consumers reported using the internet to access advice from physicians or medical experts, and 45% of patients who use health-related apps were willing to use an app to communicate with their doctor – roughly the same percentage as those willing to use an app to track physical activity (44%).

Millennials are the Most Responsive Generation to Pharma Advertising

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 media.

  • 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.
  • Millennials are quick to click the first link in online search, demonstrating the effectiveness of paid search with this generation: 42% of Millennials said they visited Wikipedia because "it was the first web link" appearing in their online search, compared to 16% of Gen Xers and 17% of Baby Boomers who listed the same reason.
  • Television is still the best way to reach audiences, even among Millennials: 26% of Millennials reported that television advertising would motivate them to visit a pharma-sponsored website, followed by advertising on a website (19%) and social media (16%).

A cornerstone of many marketing and public relations campaigns, survey results also noted that trust of celebrity endorsement is low: only 13% of consumers would trust a celebrity endorsement as a source of information about their medication. However, when dissected by generation, more than one in five Millennials stated that they would trust a celebrity endorsement (22%), the highest among generational segments.

For more information on the Pulse of Online Search Survey, visit

About the "Pulse of Online Search" Survey

Fielded in February 2016 to 1,035 nationally representative Americans ages 18 and older by Kelton, the Makovsky Health "Pulse of Online Search" Survey investigated consumers' behavior and preferences for engaging with online healthcare information. The margin of error is +/- 3.1 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.

About Makovsky Health

Named "Healthcare Agency of the Year" by The Holmes Report, Makovsky Health is leading healthcare communications in its ongoing mission to improve the lives of patients served by biotech, pharmaceutical, wellness and device manufacturing companies. Makovsky campaigns have been recognized by industry peers as the "Best in Healthcare," "Best Education/Public Service Campaign" and "Best of the Best." To learn more about the agency, please visit

About Kelton

Kelton is a research, strategy and design consultancy that works with many of the world's largest and most recognizable brands to help them better understand and connect with consumers. Kelton provides highly customized qualitative, quantitative, innovation and design research for a wide variety of companies across multiple sectors. For more information, please visit

Media Contact:  
John Colucci
Makovsky Health 
[email protected] 
Office: 212-508-9646

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SOURCE Makovsky Integrated Communications