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The Doctor’s Digital Path to Treatment: A Study by Google and Manhattan Research

Terri Greene

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Today, a handful of Intouch associates are in New York City for Google’s Think Health summit where they are exploring the healthcare landscape and learning how to better leverage digital tools to benefit today’s healthcare consumer. We thought we would share the following article, by our own Terri Greene, that provides the highlights and insights from a recent study conducted by Google and Manhattan Research. We hope you enjoy it.

Recently, Google and Manhattan Research collaborated on a study that took a fresh look at physicians’ digital adoption patterns across digital devices and media channels and the resulting impact. The study was conducted online in February and March of 2012 and included 506 U.S. practicing physicians.

From the study, the main findings were:

  • The Internet is integral to clinical practice
  • Search is the doctor’s digital stethoscope
  • Medicine is mobile
  • Online video is an educational tool

The Internet is Integral to Clinical Practice

The study uncovered that physicians prefer online resources. In fact, when making clinical decisions, physicians spend twice as much time using online resources than they do print resources. This includes search, professional websites, drug references, mobile apps and several other sources. The print resources most often included journals and reference materials.

The study also broke down the data into two age groups: physicians under the age of 45 and physicians who were 55 and older.

Age Breakdown Stats

Search is the Doctor’s Digital Stethoscope

The study results suggest that "more doctors start with search engines than any other online resource or website," which demonstrates the importance of search within the medical industry. It was also found that physicians search on all devices. Here’s a brief breakdown of what devices physicians use and what they are searching for:

  • Desktops/Laptops: When looking for default or general information, 98% of desktop/laptop owners search using this device
  • Smartphones: When they need to look up information quickly, 56% of smartphone owners search on this device
  • Tablets: When searching for the purpose of reading and teaching, 63% of tablet owners search on this device

Search is also a daily activity for most physicians. Below is the breakdown of physicians’ daily search activity vs. activity on other sites physicians use when looking for information online:

Online Resources Stats

When search engines are used to find clinical and treatment information, the time of day varies:

  • 56% search on lunch breaks
  • 70% search after work or on weekends
  • 77% search between patient consults
  • 41% search during patient consults

Top situations that prompted the use of a search engine included:

  • When the patient requested more info during a consult (68%)
  • After the patient requested a specific drug (62%)
  • After the patient reported a drug side effect (61%)

With regard to search terms, most search queries vary widely. However, there are certain underlying trends with regard to subject matter that stand out when physicians are looking for clinical information:

  • 84% of searches are condition-related
  • 56% of searches are for generic prescription drug names
  • 50% of searches are for branded prescription drug names
  • 46% of searches are related to symptoms
  • 32% of searches are for generic medical device names
  • 28% of searches are for branded medical device names
  • 26% of searches are for the name of a clinical trial or study
  • 17% of searches are related to a pharmaceutical manufacturer
  • 16% of searches are for the name of a medical professional or expert

Medicine is Mobile

Similar to the trend in the overall population, mobile among physicians is growing due to the rapid adoption of smartphones. Many physicians value their smartphone as a key resource in their practice.

In fact, the study demonstrated that physicians favor mobile search over professional apps. Below is a graphic that shows the breakdown of time allotted to the following methods when looking for clinical information on a smartphone:

Mobile Stats

In addition to spending more time using mobile search, physicians are conducting mobile searches daily on both smartphones and tablets. This further shows the importance of optimizing websites for mobile devices. The study pointed to two very interesting stats related to physicians and mobile-optimized sites:

  • 62% say they are likely to abandon a website if it’s not optimized for a smartphone
  • 41% report that they are led to mobile-optimized sites only occasionally

Mobile is also more action-oriented when compared to desktop search. The study showed that 90% of those using mobile search have taken an action. These actions included searching for more information, sharing information with a patient, making a decision about treatment for a patient, sharing information with a colleague, requesting a product sample or taking another clinical-related action.

Online Video is an Educational Tool

We all know that rich media sources tend to have better engagement than plain text with the average user. This fact is also true when looking at physicians.

Video Stats

While most physicians watch online videos on a desktop or laptop, there are also a good number of physicians who watch videos via a smartphone or tablet. There are a wide variety of videos watched online, but many of the top videos are related to continuing medical education, lectures, and disease and condition information.

When determining which video source physicians use most to view videos, YouTube wins hands down. Physicians who prefer YouTube say:

  • It provides easy access and broad options
  • They can always find something that they are looking for
  • It has good quality videos and good search capabilities
  • It offers a large selection that is easy to search

85% of those watching professional videos online have taken an action. Actions included:

  • Searching for more information
  • Sharing information with a colleague
  • Sharing information with a patient
  • Changing or making a decision about treatment for a patient
  • Requesting a product sample
  • Taking another clinical-related action

What Does All of This Mean?

If your target demographic includes physicians, then this study sheds light on how they are using digital to find clinical information. Making sure that you are visible where physicians are looking is very important, and understanding what types of information physicians are seeking can help you enhance the online content you provide.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Search — Make sure your digital properties are visible in search engines because physicians are looking. Again, physicians prefer online sources rather than print, so it’s important that you have an online presence that provides relevant information that physicians will find useful.
  • Mobile — Physicians are on the go, so make sure you travel with them. They seek information through their mobile devices, the use of which is growing at an exponential rate. This makes it even more important to have a mobile-optimized website as most physicians are likely to abandon a website if it’s not optimized for a smartphone. Not only are mobile searches and activities growing, but most mobile search is action-oriented. In other words, a specific action is taken as a result of clinical or treatment information being accessed on a smartphone or tablet.
  • Videos — Sight, sound and motion have a lot of power. Most physicians who viewed a video online took some sort of follow-up action. This shows that videos can be very influential in guiding physicians to do something they may not have planned on doing before watching the video. In addition, physicians devote a lot of time to watching videos online, which shows they value video as a relevant source in finding valuable information. At the end of the day, having videos available will help to better engage your visitors.

To view the complete study, please visit: The Doctor’s Digital Path to Treatment: A Google and Manhattan Research Study.

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