Consumers value ease of use over trust when seeking healthcare information

When using online tools to gather health information and guidance, consumers weigh ease of use over trustworthiness when it comes to choosing online health resources, according to findings from the Sixth Annual Makovsky/Kelton "Pulse of Online Search" survey.

The survey, fielded to 1,035 American adults, revealed that while the physician-patient relationship remains a crucial fixture in the healthcare equation, patients often turn to the Internet to supplement their inquiries with healthcare professionals, especially 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, senior vice president and practice director of 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."

Here are five key findings on consumer behaviors around online healthcare information.

  • Sites that received low scores for trustworthiness are offset by high scores in ease of use. For instance, Wikipedia, which was ranked lowest for trust (26 percent) was ranked second-highest for ease of use (55 percent).
  • WebMD, which had the highest usage rate (53 percent) had the third-lowest trust ranking (39 percent), but highest ease of use score (56 percent).
  • Advocacy group online resources were ranked the highest in trustworthiness (59 percent), yet were among the least-visited by consumers (16 percent), just slightly better than pharmaceutical company-sponsored websites (12 percent usage rate among participants).
  • Health system websites are growing increasingly popular among consumers across the board. They were rated the second-highest for trust (53 percent), second-highest for use (31 percent) and third-highest for ease of use (41 percent).
  • The kind of information consumers are seeking has changed over the last year. When asked what information they would first research online about a health condition, the number of consumers who said "treatment options" increased by 21 percent from 2015 to 2016, while those who said "symptoms" decreased by 14 percent.

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