Nielsen Looks at Traffic to Medical Sites

    December 29, 2008
    Chris Crum

People often turn to the Internet for information about illnesses and treatments. Many put off going to the doctor as long as possible just because they don’t find it enjoyable. Many others simply can’t afford to go to the doctor because of a lack of health insurance or plans that still end up costing them too much in co-pays anyway.

"Specifically, social media vehicles are expanding and accelerating the pace at which patients and caregivers can gain access to drug treatment ratings.," says Jessica Hogue on the Nielsen Online blog. "Similar to how an online shopper may peruse consumer reviews and ratings for, say, a flat screen TV on, today’s patients can get a similar quick fix."

Still, these sites can’t replace real medical care. They can be useful for obtaining information and opinions, but they’re not necessarily going to make you feel better, and they’re certainly not going to give you treatment.

Nielsen decided to look at traffic for the popular WebMD and compare it to the traffic of some other medical review sites combined. "By literally putting a human face on this vast repository of patient information and fostering social networking, these sites distinguish themselves from predecessors like, and even established sites like, which also allows users to rate treatments," says Hogue. "I was curious to see what traffic to the sites looked like. As yet, traffic is quite low and below our minimum reporting levels, but directionally this data seems to indicate that awareness of review sites is gradually increasing."

 If nothing else, this data indicates that people are beginning to trust social media more as a legitimate source of information. When you can interact with a number of people who share similar experiences to your own, you build a connection and often establish a trusting (at least to some degree) relationship with them. Of course, even if these social sites are looked to more often, that doesn’t mean that people aren’t taking some of the information obtained with a grain of salt. But that’s part of the beauty of it. There will often be people there to discredit bogus information or to disagree with ideas, and sometimes such responses are just as useful as the original idea.