New Research From The Boston Consulting Group Reveals E-Health Paradox: It's Harder to Reach Patients Online Than to Have an Effect on Them

A Big Challenge for Health Care Companies, But Not Insurmountable



Apr 30, 2001, 01:00 ET from The Boston Consulting Group

    BOSTON, April 30 /PRNewswire/ -- Although the Internet is increasing its
 influence on how patients approach their health care, strategies borrowed from
 consumer sites fail to reach them, according to new research released today by
 The Boston Consulting Group (BCG).  However, emerging shifts in how people
 search for health care information will present industry players with new
 opportunities to engage and capture patients online.
     "Two contradictory findings have surfaced.  On one hand, patients who use
 the Internet to explore health issues report that the information they find
 online has a real impact on how they manage their overall care and comply with
 prescribed treatments, making the Web an important lever for companies seeking
 to get patients more involved in care decisions," says Deborah Lovich, a BCG
 vice president and co-leader of the firm's e-health initiative.  "Yet, typical
 online traffic-building strategies don't seem to work, since usage patterns in
 e-health bear little resemblance to those in e-commerce."
     BCG's research shows that the more patients use the Web for health, the
 stronger their response to the call to action issued by health care companies.
 Indeed, those who use the Internet frequently are two to three times more
 likely than infrequent users to take action that affects their diagnosis and
 treatment.  For example, the data that patients find online result in their
 asking their physicians more questions and in greater detail.  But more
 importantly, when patients who frequently use the Internet for health consult
 with their doctors, about 36 percent suggest the specific illnesses that they
 are suffering from and 45 percent request specific treatments.  In comparison,
 among those who hardly ever venture online to find health information, only
 16 percent and 19 percent of patients respectively exhibit the same active
 involvement.
     But harnessing the power of the Internet will be daunting for health care
 companies, since reaching patients online is difficult.  Indeed, the research
 reveals two key dissimilarities between the searching behaviors of patients
 and consumers:
 
      --   First, unlike consumers seeking other information online, patients
           don't explore health topics on the Web at their leisure or for
           entertainment.  In fact, the vast majority -- 77 percent -- use the
           Internet for health issues only when they have specific questions.
 
      --   Second, the same Internet users who might visit an auto site to find
           information about cars or visit and return to Amazon to purchase
           books typically don't turn to health sites directly when searching
           for health information.  To answer their health queries on the Web,
           65 percent of patients usually start with general search engines
           such as Yahoo, Ask Jeeves, and Alta Vista.  Only 24 percent make
           health portals such as WebMD and InteliHealth their first stop; a
           mere 11 percent start with disease-specific Web sites such as
           Oncology.com or MSWatch.  And even those who favor specific
           health-related sites report that they initially found them through
           general search engines.
 
     "These findings hold promise for all health care companies that benefit
 from influencing patient behavior, such as pharmaceutical companies promoting
 new therapies and managed care players promoting patient compliance with
 disease-management initiatives.  The struggle will be figuring out how to
 reach them, particularly since where patients will end up when they log on for
 answers to health care questions remains highly unpredictable," says
 Ms. Lovich.  However, she notes that emerging shifts in patient behavior
 suggest that health care companies can home in effectively on the patient
 segments that they wish to target online.
     In a report released earlier this year, "Vital Signs: The Impact of
 E-Health on Patients and Physicians", BCG segmented patients based on the
 severity of their condition and their attitude toward physicians.  The four
 patient segments are:
 
      --   Accepting (8 percent of patients) -- Rely entirely on doctors for
           health information and decisions.
 
      --   Informed (55 percent) -- Rely on doctors to make health decisions
           but typically go online after an office visit to learn more about a
           diagnosis or prescribed treatment without, in their view, wasting
           the doctor's time with questions.
 
      --   Involved (28 percent) -- View themselves as partners with their
           physicians in making care decisions and seek information online both
           before and after visits to discuss with their doctor; however, still
           rely on their clinician to make the ultimate decision regarding
           care.
 
      --   In control (9 percent) -- Feel best suited to determine their care;
           use online information to diagnose themselves before visits to
           determine which treatments they want and to convince their doctor to
           treat them accordingly.
 
     The new research shows that while 38 percent of in-control patients and
 23 percent of involved patients often use the Web for health, only 11 percent
 of the informed and 3 percent of the accepting segments use it in that way.
     Although their overall size is relatively small, the more active involved
 and in-control segments account for a significant portion of health care
 expenditures.  These patients tend to suffer from the most severe conditions
 and thus are likely to be the heaviest consumers of health care.  They are
 also more likely to be women, with their frequent role as family caregiver
 causing them to take responsibility for the diagnosis and treatment of their
 children, spouses, and parents.
     Because these different segments of patients use e-health differently and
 for different reasons, some patients are easier to find-and therefore easier
 to influence-online.  Two important behaviors of these groups have emerged:
 
      --   Patients have already begun to migrate to more active segments over
           the past year.  This suggests that greater patient access to online
           information is leading to greater patient involvement.  Ultimately,
           if these shifts continue, the more active patients could well become
           the largest portion of the health care market.
 
      --   Patients who take a more active role in their care are beginning to
           "stick" to sites.  These patients are more likely than patients in
           other segments to visit health sites-and disease-specific sites in
           particular.  Only 28 percent of patients in the accepting segment
           visit health-related portals and disease-specific Web sites,
           compared with 42 percent of the in-control group.  With roughly the
           same percentage (23 percent to 27 percent) of each segment visiting
           health care portals, the differences in behavior are fueled by
           visits to disease-specific sites.  This suggests that
           disease-specific sites are an attractive pull for return visits
           among the most active and valuable segments in health care.
 
     "If, as the data suggest, patients continue to become more active and
 therefore more likely to visit disease-specific sites, we can expect a shift
 to deep, narrow health sites.  Consequently, understanding the disease- and
 segment-specific offerings that attract and retain patients will be an
 essential element for health care companies to build a future presence online.
 For the time being, however, search engines remain the most dominant vehicle
 for reaching patients on line," concludes Ms. Lovich.
     A bulletin, "Vital Signs Update: The E-Health Patient Paradox", highlights
 the key findings of BCG's latest analysis of e-health and explores their
 implications for health care companies.  Both the findings and the
 implications are based on a research arrangement with Harris Interactive,
 using its online research capabilities, which include the "Chronic Illness
 Panel" consisting of more than three million patients.  Currently, BCG is
 conducting research to further investigate the role of physicians in e-health.
 
     About The Boston Consulting Group
     The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is a general management consulting firm
 widely regarded as the global leader in business strategy.  Since 1963, BCG
 has worked with companies in every major industry and global market to develop
 and implement strategies for competitive success.  BCG has 50 offices in
 33 countries around the world.  More information on BCG can be found on its
 Web site: http://www.bcg.com.
 
                     MAKE YOUR OPINION COUNT -- Click Here
                http://tbutton.prnewswire.com/prn/11690X85699396
 
 

SOURCE The Boston Consulting Group
    BOSTON, April 30 /PRNewswire/ -- Although the Internet is increasing its
 influence on how patients approach their health care, strategies borrowed from
 consumer sites fail to reach them, according to new research released today by
 The Boston Consulting Group (BCG).  However, emerging shifts in how people
 search for health care information will present industry players with new
 opportunities to engage and capture patients online.
     "Two contradictory findings have surfaced.  On one hand, patients who use
 the Internet to explore health issues report that the information they find
 online has a real impact on how they manage their overall care and comply with
 prescribed treatments, making the Web an important lever for companies seeking
 to get patients more involved in care decisions," says Deborah Lovich, a BCG
 vice president and co-leader of the firm's e-health initiative.  "Yet, typical
 online traffic-building strategies don't seem to work, since usage patterns in
 e-health bear little resemblance to those in e-commerce."
     BCG's research shows that the more patients use the Web for health, the
 stronger their response to the call to action issued by health care companies.
 Indeed, those who use the Internet frequently are two to three times more
 likely than infrequent users to take action that affects their diagnosis and
 treatment.  For example, the data that patients find online result in their
 asking their physicians more questions and in greater detail.  But more
 importantly, when patients who frequently use the Internet for health consult
 with their doctors, about 36 percent suggest the specific illnesses that they
 are suffering from and 45 percent request specific treatments.  In comparison,
 among those who hardly ever venture online to find health information, only
 16 percent and 19 percent of patients respectively exhibit the same active
 involvement.
     But harnessing the power of the Internet will be daunting for health care
 companies, since reaching patients online is difficult.  Indeed, the research
 reveals two key dissimilarities between the searching behaviors of patients
 and consumers:
 
      --   First, unlike consumers seeking other information online, patients
           don't explore health topics on the Web at their leisure or for
           entertainment.  In fact, the vast majority -- 77 percent -- use the
           Internet for health issues only when they have specific questions.
 
      --   Second, the same Internet users who might visit an auto site to find
           information about cars or visit and return to Amazon to purchase
           books typically don't turn to health sites directly when searching
           for health information.  To answer their health queries on the Web,
           65 percent of patients usually start with general search engines
           such as Yahoo, Ask Jeeves, and Alta Vista.  Only 24 percent make
           health portals such as WebMD and InteliHealth their first stop; a
           mere 11 percent start with disease-specific Web sites such as
           Oncology.com or MSWatch.  And even those who favor specific
           health-related sites report that they initially found them through
           general search engines.
 
     "These findings hold promise for all health care companies that benefit
 from influencing patient behavior, such as pharmaceutical companies promoting
 new therapies and managed care players promoting patient compliance with
 disease-management initiatives.  The struggle will be figuring out how to
 reach them, particularly since where patients will end up when they log on for
 answers to health care questions remains highly unpredictable," says
 Ms. Lovich.  However, she notes that emerging shifts in patient behavior
 suggest that health care companies can home in effectively on the patient
 segments that they wish to target online.
     In a report released earlier this year, "Vital Signs: The Impact of
 E-Health on Patients and Physicians", BCG segmented patients based on the
 severity of their condition and their attitude toward physicians.  The four
 patient segments are:
 
      --   Accepting (8 percent of patients) -- Rely entirely on doctors for
           health information and decisions.
 
      --   Informed (55 percent) -- Rely on doctors to make health decisions
           but typically go online after an office visit to learn more about a
           diagnosis or prescribed treatment without, in their view, wasting
           the doctor's time with questions.
 
      --   Involved (28 percent) -- View themselves as partners with their
           physicians in making care decisions and seek information online both
           before and after visits to discuss with their doctor; however, still
           rely on their clinician to make the ultimate decision regarding
           care.
 
      --   In control (9 percent) -- Feel best suited to determine their care;
           use online information to diagnose themselves before visits to
           determine which treatments they want and to convince their doctor to
           treat them accordingly.
 
     The new research shows that while 38 percent of in-control patients and
 23 percent of involved patients often use the Web for health, only 11 percent
 of the informed and 3 percent of the accepting segments use it in that way.
     Although their overall size is relatively small, the more active involved
 and in-control segments account for a significant portion of health care
 expenditures.  These patients tend to suffer from the most severe conditions
 and thus are likely to be the heaviest consumers of health care.  They are
 also more likely to be women, with their frequent role as family caregiver
 causing them to take responsibility for the diagnosis and treatment of their
 children, spouses, and parents.
     Because these different segments of patients use e-health differently and
 for different reasons, some patients are easier to find-and therefore easier
 to influence-online.  Two important behaviors of these groups have emerged:
 
      --   Patients have already begun to migrate to more active segments over
           the past year.  This suggests that greater patient access to online
           information is leading to greater patient involvement.  Ultimately,
           if these shifts continue, the more active patients could well become
           the largest portion of the health care market.
 
      --   Patients who take a more active role in their care are beginning to
           "stick" to sites.  These patients are more likely than patients in
           other segments to visit health sites-and disease-specific sites in
           particular.  Only 28 percent of patients in the accepting segment
           visit health-related portals and disease-specific Web sites,
           compared with 42 percent of the in-control group.  With roughly the
           same percentage (23 percent to 27 percent) of each segment visiting
           health care portals, the differences in behavior are fueled by
           visits to disease-specific sites.  This suggests that
           disease-specific sites are an attractive pull for return visits
           among the most active and valuable segments in health care.
 
     "If, as the data suggest, patients continue to become more active and
 therefore more likely to visit disease-specific sites, we can expect a shift
 to deep, narrow health sites.  Consequently, understanding the disease- and
 segment-specific offerings that attract and retain patients will be an
 essential element for health care companies to build a future presence online.
 For the time being, however, search engines remain the most dominant vehicle
 for reaching patients on line," concludes Ms. Lovich.
     A bulletin, "Vital Signs Update: The E-Health Patient Paradox", highlights
 the key findings of BCG's latest analysis of e-health and explores their
 implications for health care companies.  Both the findings and the
 implications are based on a research arrangement with Harris Interactive,
 using its online research capabilities, which include the "Chronic Illness
 Panel" consisting of more than three million patients.  Currently, BCG is
 conducting research to further investigate the role of physicians in e-health.
 
     About The Boston Consulting Group
     The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is a general management consulting firm
 widely regarded as the global leader in business strategy.  Since 1963, BCG
 has worked with companies in every major industry and global market to develop
 and implement strategies for competitive success.  BCG has 50 offices in
 33 countries around the world.  More information on BCG can be found on its
 Web site: http://www.bcg.com.
 
                     MAKE YOUR OPINION COUNT -- Click Here
                http://tbutton.prnewswire.com/prn/11690X85699396
 
 SOURCE  The Boston Consulting Group