Providing Health Advice In The Age Of Dr Google

When I was a teenager, if I had a health question, I’d go to mum. And if I didn’t want to ask mum about it, I wouldn’t ask anyone. It may not surprise you that we were regulars at A&E. 

These days, I can still ask mum, but my first port of call is “Dr Google”. 

And I’m not the only one. Whether we like it or not, more and more people are using search engines to self-diagnose. 

A quick search of your symptoms online is free, convenient, and for the most part: private. That’s important when the topic is embarrassing, sensitive or just plain uncomfortable to talk about with others. 

Google processes over 40,000 search queries every second on average, and according to Google’s health programme manager, one in 20 searches are health related, equating to 175 million searches each day. That’s a lot of people asking questions about their health. 

Results from a study released in July 2018 show that 80% of Internet users searched for a health-related topic online, up from 62% who said they went online to research health topics in 2001. 

Dr Google is here to stay. 

It may concern you that people are finding incorrect information online or jumping to conclusions, after all, we often zero in on the most terrible diagnosis for whatever it is we think we might have. 

So with this in mind, what can your pharmacy do to ensure members of your local community make the right decisions when it comes to health purchases? 

Provide health information on your website 

Help your community find informative advice online about a range of health topics by adding articles to your website. Along with the difference between a cold and the flu, include the topics that people are wanting to search for privately, and add product suggestions so that they can purchase directly from your pharmacy. 

A Google report into understanding consumer’s search behaviour, found 4 in 5 consumers use search engines to find local information, so sprinkle in keywords for your town, city and even country into each article. That same report found 50% of consumers who conducted a local search on their smart phone visited a store within a day, and 34% of tablet/computer users did the same, so make sure your contact details are also included. 

Advertise your availability 

Make it clear that you’re always available for a one-on-one chat. Along with your pharmacy’s phone number and address at the bottom of each article, include an enquiry form in case they have further questions that they’re less comfortable talking about in-person or over the phone. 

And remember: you know when health professionals are available at your pharmacy and how best to book an appointment, but your customers may not. 

Allow online purchasing 

Let’s be honest: some pharmacy products are more awkward for consumers to buy in public. And the smaller the community, the higher the chance of running into someone you know, and the gossip that can follow. 

By allowing products to be purchased on your website, you can help customers feel comfortable about their privacy and either allow products to be shipped directly to their home, or packaged up for discrete in-store collection. 

If there’s important information to include, add it to the delivered package, or schedule a follow up call or appointment.  


This article produced by Storbie, originally featured in the December 18 -January 19 edition of Contact, the magazine for members of the Pharmacy Guild of New Zealand and has been re-published here with permission.

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