Study reveals value of Internet to consumers seeking health news

WASHINGTON: The importance of the Internet for health care communications has been underscored this week by a new report which reveals that 52 million people across the US have used the Web to retrieve health or medical information.

WASHINGTON: The importance of the Internet for health care communications has been underscored this week by a new report which reveals that 52 million people across the US have used the Web to retrieve health or medical information.

WASHINGTON: The importance of the Internet for health care communications has been underscored this week by a new report which reveals that 52 million people across the US have used the Web to retrieve health or medical information.

Pew Internet & American Life's study reports that 55% of all Internet surfers in the US have sought medical data.

But while the numbers are encouraging, the PR challenge remains to maximize the Internet's potential as a resource for health professionals.

'For physicians to learn about technology is time they see taken away from their patients,' said Alison Roselli, account director for WebMD with Ogilvy PR. 'We want to help them understand the benefits of having more information at their fingertips.'

Pew Internet & American Life released data from the study the same week the Food & Drug Administration unveiled a more user-friendly version of its Web site.

The FDA has seen its Internet visitors increase from 42,000 a day in January to 55,000 this month. The home page is now easier to navigate, based on a usability study the FDA commissioned.

What used to be primarily a repository for reports aimed at health professionals has increasingly been in demand as a resource for lay people.

'We can tell this by the kinds of e-mails we receive,' said Bill Rados, the site's manager. 'Many are from people looking for consumer-friendly information about recalled drugs and approvals.'

Also this week, pharmaceutical giant Merck has formed a new subsidiary, Merck Capital Ventures, in order to invest dollars 100 million in Internet and new industries that focus on medication and related health services.

Merck's investment is 'in line with one of our goals to build Internet presence and capacity,' said company spokeswoman Gwen Fisher.



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