Women Tap Many Sources for Health Info

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Female Internet users do not necessarily prefer female-specific health content when looking for medical advice online, a quarterly analysis by Cyber Dialogue has concluded.

Women do not automatically make a beeline to women's health sites, said Carolyn Gratzer, senior analyst at Cyber Dialogue, New York.

There are 21.7 million women in the United States who visit the Web for online health information, according to Cyber Dialogue, 48 percent of whom seek information specific to women's health. Cyber Dialogue surveyed 2,710 people, including 1,661 women. Nearly 60 percent of the women surveyed said they look for information about specific diseases online.

Women's habits in researching online health are similar to men's, although women are more likely to seek health information on the Internet, Gratzer said. Women differed more among themselves, and marketers must learn how to cater to different segments of the female population, she said.

E-health marketers tend to focus on developing suites of products targeted at all women, Gratzer said. Instead, they should look at which types of women provide the most advertising, commerce and data value.

Women often are looking for medical information online not for themselves, but for someone else. Sixty percent used online healthcare sites for information when a friend or family member was sick, and 13 percent described themselves as caregivers to parents, children, spouses or others.

"It's not something the industry has taken advantage of yet," Gratzer said. "It's something I think needs to be exploited a lot more."

Also, the survey found that women want better access to their doctors online, Gratzer said. While the top sources to which women go online for health information are Yahoo, AOL, Web MD, Discovery Health and Medscape, 68 percent of women surveyed said they would rather get information directly from their doctors.

Fifty-four percent, or 40.9 million people, of the total online population get health information from the Internet, according to the survey. Some 14.6 million users shop online for health and beauty products, and 4.6 million have made an actual purchase.

People are also interested in using the Internet to directly affect their treatment, Cyber Dialogue found. While only 3.7 million people have used e-mail to contact their doctors' offices, 33.6 million more wish to do so, and 25 percent of people who visit sites dedicated to specific diseases go on to request from their doctors specific prescription brands they discovered on the Internet.

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