Rural patients have more chronic health conditions than urbanites, but also are more likely to skip doctors’ visits — and less likely to use digital tools such as telehealth to make up for it, according to new research.
However, rural patients aren’t skipping out because they’re Luddites. Almost all of them (93%) have access to smartphones and data plans, similar to the 94% of urban patients who do, according to the study from Phreesia Life Sciences. And both rural and urban patients use the internet about the same for other internet activities such as checking email, scrolling social media, playing online games and doing schoolwork.
When it comes to health, broadband reliability and slower internet speeds at home do play a role, but it’s a lack of online use for health information that may be a bigger challenge for pharma marketers to address.
Twelve percent of rural patients say they never go online for health information, compared to 9% of urban and 8% of suburban dwellers who say they never do. And even when rural patients do go online, only 19% consider the information “very helpful,” compared to 23% of urban patients who say the same. Only 14% of rural patients said they completely trust the health information they find online.
“Rural patients are less internet savvy and what that means is there is a lack of trust in the information online because they don’t use the internet as much as other groups,” Joyce Wang, Phreesia associate director of research, said, adding “They’re looking at a lot of information online, but still don’t know best how to use what they see and to find the most trustworthy information to apply to their health care.”
So what can pharma marketers do? Consider mobile-friendly strategies and offering more education, technical assistance and personalized content to ease the way to using more health information online, Phreesia suggested.
Another gap between rural and urban patients showed up in the study around communicating health needs. One-fourth of rural patients said they have trouble coming up with the right questions or words to ask about health-related concerns and compared to urban patients are less likely to share online information with their doctors.
“If you don’t even know where to start, you probably don’t know how to best use digital tools to help manage your health,” Wang said.
The good news for pharma is that improving personalization based on specific conditions, amping education between doctors’ visits and pointing to support resources will help both rural and urban patients.
“It’s fair to say health literacy is a problem across the board,” Wang said, “What we’re trying to highlight from this research is the size of the group that needs help is different. Rural patients are facing more challenges than urban patients and they really need help. I wouldn’t say most of them, but they do need some attention.”