The Shifting Role of Influence and Authority in the Rx Drug & Health Supplement Market

CharityRx News September 21st, 2022

Today’s digital landscape has changed consumer behavior across a wide range of subject matters, from where people turn for personal financial advice to how to manage their health. The availability of information on every topic one wishes to explore, and the expediency at which it can be accessed, has opened a gateway to a new era in which people turn to a much greater pool of sources of “authority,” often even in lieu of those with official licenses and/or other technical accreditations in their field. 

To further explore how the spread of health information, treatment options and health authorities is impacting consumer behavior when it comes to managing personal wellbeing, CharityRx commissioned a study surveying 2,000 U.S. adults to identify how they’re absorbing information about pharmaceutical drugs/supplements, the sources of “authority” they turn to and finally, the potential negative ramifications of this shift in consumer behavior.



Americans most commonly turn to social media influencers for advice on anxiety (34%), weight loss (34%), and depression (33%)


89% of Americans believe it is likely influencers contribute to health misinformation and 76% fact-check their endorsements


Nearly 1 in 5 Americans trust health influencers more than medical professionals in their community


After seeing a drug ad, 1 in 5 Americans realized they had a health condition they were unaware of and 1 in 4 now regularly take the medication


1 in 5 Americans turn to TikTok before their doctor when seeking treatment for a health condition


1 in 2 Americans have purchased a health product after seeing an ad on social media

The Modern Expectation of “Accessibility” is Driving Many Consumers to Turn to Online Sources of Advice Prior to Medical Professionals


turn to Google first before consulting their doctor


turn to YouTube first before consulting their doctor


turn to influencers for health advice because they are easier to access than medical professionals

Today’s consumers have been conditioned to expect instant answers and solutions, largely as a result of the expediency we’ve grown accustomed to in nearly every aspect of our lives. When it comes to managing one’s health, Americans have embraced this instant gratification mentality by turning to sources of influence online. This need for accessibility and control over one’s health options is likely one reason personal health management now extends far outside the doctor’s office. Given that the youngest of our generations has grown up in this new world of expediency and accessibility, it makes sense that they’re also the ones most likely to turn to online options for health advice.

Demand for Online Health Information Has Given Way to an Explosion of Online Health Advertising, Informational Resources and Non Traditional Sources of Authority

Beyond the go-to online source of WebMd, the high demand from consumers for information, treatment options and advice on their health has coincided with a rapid increase in treatment-related advertisements and self-proclaimed experts sharing their advice across social media platforms. As a result, today’s consumers are inundated with health information, even when they’re not actively seeking it out.


have seen a health supplement and/or pharmaceutical ad


have seen health supplement/pharmaceutical drug ads on television


have seen health supplement/pharmaceutical drug ads on social media


have seen health supplement/pharmaceutical drug ads on TV streaming platforms

5 per week

is the average number of health supplement and/or pharmaceutical ads Americans are exposed to

Outside of Accreditations and Experience, the Top Reasons People Go to Influencers, is Based on Relatability to Shared Personal Experiences

While medical experts and influencers are both mostly considered credible due to their accreditations and experience in their designated health field, some of the modern factors that make health influencers unique is their relatability to a shared personal experience or their triumph over a health condition. This is likely why people also tend to turn to health influencers for areas that have more “gray area” around successful treatment options, such as anxiety, weight loss and depression.

Despite Trusting Influencers, Celebrities and Ads Significantly Less than Doctors, People are Still Taking Action and Making Decisions Based on Influencer Advice & Advertising

While only 17% of Americans say they trust influencers more than doctors for health advice, that isn’t stopping them from acting on the advice provided. In fact, celebrities were rated the “least trusted” when it comes to advice on health supplements and/or medications, yet nonetheless, 51% agree that celebrity endorsements increase their intent to purchase a health drug and/or supplement.

Rankings from least trusted (1) to most trusted (8) when it comes to advice on health supplements and/or medications:


have purchased a product to remedy a health concern after seeing it on social media


are likely to ask their doctor about being treated for a health condition after hearing about the symptoms in an ad

After seeing a pharmaceutical drug ad, Americans have taken the following actions:

How consumers are impacted by celebrity endorsements for health drugs and/or supplements:

While Americans Largely Refer to Advertising and Influencers as an Educational Resource, they also Agree that Misinformation and Lack of Transparency is an Issue

Luckily, most Americans refer to online advertising and health influencers as one source among many, followed by research and doctor consultations. That said, many also agree that there are negative ramifications to this new trend in on-demand health, whereby misinformation and a lack of transparency can lead to the spread of false diagnoses, misdirection and even in some cases, hypochondria.

American perceptions of benefits provided by prescription drug ads:


fact-check endorsements made by health influencers


Don’t feel that the risks of pharmaceutical drugs are properly emphasized in ads


think it’s likely that social media influencers contribute to health misinformation


do not trust influencers to provide them with honest advice on the brands they recommend on their channels


Younger generations likely to drive continued growth and popularity of online health influencers and forums for health-related discussions in years to come.

Particularly among the youngest generation, Gen-Z, the trend of looking to online resources such as Google and even social platforms like YouTube and TikTok is only likely to increase in frequency in years to come due to growing up with the expectation of accessibility in all aspects of life. As a result, we’re likely to see a continued trend of new health influencers popping up across a variety of topics.

Health concerns with more gray area when it comes to effective treatment options, such as anxiety and depression, are most likely to be sought out by consumers who are looking for more relatable stories about efficacy of treatment

The biggest areas where there is a difference between doctor and health influencer opinions are on areas of mental health, where consumers are often looking for a more personal connection to people who’ve seen success with their treatments. Given that the results and treatments are highly variable from person to person, people are more likely to turn to experience-based recommendations vs a more clinical approach to treatment options.

Discretion and research will be extremely important for Americans looking to online sources, as misinformation and lack of accountability is a significant cause for concern

Stories of people bypassing their doctor’s advice in favor of alternative sources of authority has been dominant in media headlines over the past couple of years, and based on the results of this survey, it’s apparent that the role of advertisements, health influencers and celebrities is only likely to continue to play a role in how people are researching and acting on their personal health. That said, it will be essential that people take online advice with a grain of salt, ensuring that they consult multiple sources of information in order to avoid acting on misinformation.  


CharityRx commissioned this survey in collaboration with market research provider, Pollfish, including 2,000 U.S. adults aged 18 and over who have been exposed to drug and/or supplement advertising in the past 12 month period. Generational age ranges were drawn from Pew Research.


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