Americans are ready and willing to leverage health apps and wearable devices to improve their personal health, according to the findings from the Fifth Annual Makovsky/Kelton “Pulse of Online Health” survey. Designed to uncover shifts in consumer behaviors concerning online healthcare information use, this year’s survey reveals consumer readiness to disclose online personal health data as a path to improve treatment options. Data also cite trust and quality of health information as important factors in consumer selection of online health sources and show that many consumers are willing to pay more for medications based on efficacy or lower side effect profiles.

“Smartphones and wearables are driving a major behavioral shift in consumer health and wellness,” says Gil Bashe, executive vice president, Makovsky Health, in a release. “Beyond a desire to speed access to information, consumers are using technology to engage proactively in managing their health—and a personality of ‘search’ is influenced by specific medical conditions. We also see stark differences between Millennials [ages 18-34] and those 66 and older in this year’s survey. Savvy health marketers will apply these insights to engage and involve patients in more meaningful, customized ways.”

An uptick in mobile usage for managing consumer health also is contributing to a dramatic shift in behavior when it comes to personal transparency. Health information has long hid behind the walls of patient confidentiality, with consumers and physicians holding personal health information close to their vests. In today’s digital world, however, consumers and physicians cannot share health information online fast enough.

Consumers Eager to Leverage Technology for Better Health

Mobile health platforms, in particular, represent a huge opportunity to improve health; almost two-thirds (66%) of Americans would use a mobile app to manage health-related issues. Millennials are leading the digital health charge, as they are more than twice as likely to express interest in using a mobile app to manage their health compared to those Americans 66 and older.

Top interests when downloading and using mobile health apps reflect proactive desires for informative, functional, and interactive programs:

  • Tracking diet/nutrition (47%)
  • Medication reminders (46%)
  • Tracking symptoms (45%)
  • Tracking physical activity (44%).

Most common motivators for using a mobile app vary across health conditions. More than six in 10 (63%) Americans with gastrointestinal conditions would use mobile health apps to track diet and nutrition; among obese or overweight consumers, 61% would make use of a mobile app to communicate with a doctor; half (50%) of those with pulmonary conditions would use a mobile app for medication reminders; and 52% of Americans with cardiovascular issues would use a mobile app to track sleeping patterns.

Similarly, 79% of Americans would be willing to use a wearable device to manage their health–but with slightly different preferences when selecting a wearable compared to mobile apps:

  • Tracking physical activity (52%)
  • Tracking symptoms (45%)
  • Managing a personal health issue or condition (43%)
  • Tracking sleep patterns (41%)
  • Tracking diet/nutrition (39%).

Additionally, 88% of Americans would be willing to share their personal information for the sake of improving care and treatment options, which potentially opens the door for more streamlined physician engagement.

Healthcare Decisions Still Guided by Perceived Quality of Information Source

Trust and quality sources for healthcare information are important to consumers, and people are three times more likely to look to WebMD (57%) over government-affiliated websites such as the CDC (17%) or FDA (16%).

“It’s amazing that, almost 20 years after it launched, WebMD has become America’s doctor. Online searches are the new house call. This survey shows Americans aren’t relying exclusively on healthcare providers or the government for health information these days, underscoring the enormous opportunity for health news organizations and healthcare companies to become go-to sources,” says Tom Bernthal, founder and CEO of Kelton.

Among the 91% of Americans who would search online for health information, condition management (58%), exploring symptoms (57%), and researching a prescribed treatment (55%) are the most popular motivators. In contrast, if consumers were diagnosed with a medical condition, they would be most likely to research symptoms (41%), treatment options (26%), and specialized doctors and care facilities (18%).

Of the 80% of Americans willing to visit a pharma-sponsored website, those 66 and older were more likely to visit the site if a healthcare professional recommended it (52%). Doctor recommendation matters less to Millennials, with 41% visiting a site based on physician suggestion, and Millennials are also 23% more likely to be motivated by an advertisement to visit a pharma-sponsored website than those 66 and older.

When it comes to social media, Millennials are 25% more likely to trust a pharma-sponsored platform than those 66 and older (31% vs 6%). Social media lacks authority with the general population as 79% of respondents reported they trust these channels either “a little bit” or “not at all.” Patients with a diagnosed chronic medical condition, however, report “complete trust” in these channels at nearly double the rate of the average population.

Willingness to Pay for Innovation

Although medication cost remains a hot-button issue and concern for Americans, many are willing to dig deeper into their pockets for improved care. If deciding between a newer brand-name medication with a $30 copay and an older medication with a $10 copay, 84% of the country would choose the more expensive option. Top factors influencing this decision would be: fewer side effects (62%), data showing the medication was more effective than the less expensive option (60%), doctor recommendation (52%), and easier dosing (36%).

More Millennials (56%) than those 66 and older (45%) said they would be motivated by data showing the medication was more effective, or by fewer side effects (55% vs 43%), while more people 66 and older (49%) than Millennials (43%) would be motivated by the recommendation of a healthcare professional.

“Fewer side effects” would be a stronger motivator to opt for a more expensive brand-name drug for Americans with mental health issues (72%) and gastrointestinal disease (67%), as well as those who are overweight or obese (69%). Data showing greater effectiveness of the medication would motivate 72% of mental health patients, 67% of cancer patients, 67% of cardiovascular patients, and 70% of those who have had surgery to pay for the costlier medication.

About the “Pulse of Online Health” Survey

Fielded in January 2015 to 1,015 nationally representative Americans ages 18 and older by Kelton, the Makovsky Health survey investigated consumers’ behavior and preferences for engaging with online healthcare information. The margin of error is +/- 3.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.