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
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.
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
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
CharityRx, a leader in making medicine affordable and accessible for millions of Americans, understands the need to make prescription costs inexpensive and has been active in offsetting these increases caused by inflation. Its free discount card helps insured and uninsured individuals save up to 80% on prescriptions and keeps discounts consistent via its network of over 75,000 pharmacies.