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Digitalisation changes the sources for medicine information – even elderly google their medication


When seniors have questions about their medication, the internet is the primary source to find information for 17%, revealed a survey commissioned by Oriola. In the age of expanding digitalisation, social media discussions are one source also for pharmaceutical companies to detect potential adverse effects or identify need for patient support for their pharmaceutical products. The COVID-19 pandemic can accelerate the development as digital services triumph in the age of social distancing.

Oriola’s survey* mapped experiences related to medical treatment among the Finnish seniors. Over 900 people aged 70 to 89 answered the survey, and 91 per cent of the respondents had used a prescription medicine during the last year.

According to the survey, 39% of the respondents primarily turn to pharmacies and 38% to a physician when they have questions about their medication. However, digitalisation has become a part of daily life also for seniors: for 17% of the respondents, the internet was the first source of information. Especially women (22%) and respondents who had only one prescription medicine in use (25%) said they search information first on the internet, whereas only 11% of men favoured it.

The information is easily available on the internet, but it’s good to remember source criticism as the reliability of information varies. There is a danger that if people make decisions on their medication based on information on the internet, for example other patient’s experiences, the adherence to treatment might be jeopardised,” notes Patrik Åvestrand, Director of Expert Services at Oriola.

Digital support is especially important for COVID-19 risk groups

There are always individual factors in medical treatment: people respond to medication differently and can have challenges with taking medication, for example, as instructed by their physician. One way for pharmaceutical companies to support patients with their medical treatment are Oriola’s patient support services. Patient support services benefit especially patients, whose medical treatment requires enhanced risk management or regular dosage, for example. Individual guidance and support can be offered through digital platforms, in addition to other tools such as phone calls, text messages or home visits.

Due to the corona, digital channels have become even more important, especially in supporting patients who belong to the risk groups. Patient support services can relieve the pressure of burdened healthcare, as patients don’t have to get appointment with a physician to get individual guidance and answers to their questions. For the patient, easy access to support reduces unnecessary distress and increases motivation to carry on with the treatment,” says Åvestrand.

Social media discussion can reveal adverse effects

Social media discussions are also an important source of information for pharmaceutical companies related to patient safety. Pharmaceutical companies have legal responsibility to follow discussion on the internet in order to detect possible suspected adverse effects of medicines. The obligation covers monitoring the digital platforms under their management or responsibility, such as companies’ own Facebook or Instagram accounts, where users can enter their experiences of medicines and medicinal treatment.

Pharmaceutical companies can outsource monitoring of these digital channels to Oriola’s pharmacovigilance team. Our service supports pharmaceutical companies in getting information from consumers and this way promotes medicine safety.

*The survey mapped the experiences related to medical treatment and wellbeing among the Finnish seniors. 900 people aged 70 to 89 years responded to the survey. 93 per cent of the respondents were 70-79-year-old and 7 per cent over 80 years of age. 821 respondents had used prescription medicines during the last year. The survey was conducted in Bilendi M3 web panel in December 2019.