Posted by Jim Ross on Jul 28, 2022

Pharmaceutical company brand websites for medications can be useful resources, both for prospective patients looking for medications that can help with their conditions and for current patients seeking information about the medication they are taking. Medication brand websites are also a great way for pharmaceutical companies to promote awareness of their medications.

However, medication websites frequently don’t live up to their potential because pharmaceutical companies often fail to understand the needs of prospective and current patients. The key to designing an effective patient medication website is to conduct UX research to better understand the information and resources that patients are looking for.

From our extensive UX research on pharmaceutical company medication websites, we’ve learned a great deal about the needs of prospective and current patients. In this post, we’re going to share what we’ve learned about why patients visit medication websites, what information they look for, and what they find valuable.

Prospective Patients

Prospective patients are those who are researching new medications that they could possibly take. From conducting many in-depth interviews, observations, and usability tests, we’ve learned a great deal about prospective patients’ goals in researching medications and the information they seek on those sites.

What are the goals of prospective patients?

Prospective patients are looking for a medication that will help them with a medical condition. Some are already taking medication for their condition, but it’s not working as well as they’d like or they’re experiencing unpleasant side effects. So, they are looking for something that will work better for them.

Which websites do prospective patients visit?

Most begin their research with a Google search for medications to treat their condition. They first visit sites they consider to be reputable sources, such as WebMD, the Mayo Clinic, and medical organizations related to their conditions, like the American Heart Association. They view these sites as objective, reliable, and honest, presenting both the advantages and disadvantages of medications.

Skepticism of pharmaceutical websites

Although some prospective patients visit pharmaceutical company websites for particular medications, others are hesitant to visit these sites and view them with skepticism. They feel these sites are designed to sell them on the medication and will only present its positive aspects. Although they realize that pharmaceutical companies are legally required to provide certain safety information about the medication, they assume that information will be presented in fine print, legalese, instead of being easily accessible and readable.

What information do prospective patients look for on medication websites?

When they do visit medication websites, prospective patients typically look for information to answer the following questions:

    • How the medication works
      • How is this medication better than others I’ve tried?
      • What makes it unique or different?
    • Efficacy
      • How well does it work?
      • Is it more effective than others I’ve tried?
    • Side effects
      • What side effects does it have?
      • How likely is it that I’ll experience those side effects?
    • Safety
      • How long has it been on the market?
      • Are there any long-term risks of taking it?
      • Can I take it with my other health conditions?
    • Drug interactions
      • Is it safe to take with my other medications?
    • How to take the medication
      • How do you take the medication?
      • Is it a pill or an injection?
      • If it is an injection, how often do you have to inject it? How does the injector work? Is it going to hurt?
    • Insurance coverage and cost
      • Will my insurance cover it?
      • How much will I have to pay, with insurance?
      • If my insurance doesn’t cover it, how much will it cost? Is there any way to get help with the cost?
    • Patient stories
      • What are other people’s experiences and opinions of the medication?

After conducting their research

After finding one or more medications that might work for them, prospective patients typically follow up with their doctor to discuss the possibility of taking the medication. Some note the medication names to discuss with their doctor, others like to bring something from the website as a reminder, while others simply rely on their memory.

Current Patients

Current patients are those already taking the medication. Some have recently been prescribed the medication. Others are established patients who have been on the medication for some time.

What are the goals of current patients?

Those who have been recently prescribed the medication have questions and want to read more about it to feel more in control of their health. These are often individuals with serious health conditions, taking expensive medications. Their goals are to learn more about the medication, how to pay for it, and how to take it (especially for injectable medications).

Established patients already have the answers to these questions, so they rarely need to visit medication websites. When they do, they are usually looking for answers to infrequent questions that arise about the medication.

What information do current patients look for on medication websites?

Patients who have recently been prescribed a medication usually look for information to answer the following questions:

    • How the medication works
      • How is this medication going to be better than others I’ve tried?
      • What makes it unique or different?
    • Side effects
      • What side effects does it have?
      • How likely is it that I’ll experience those side effects?
    • How to take the medication (for injectable medications)
      • How do I use the injector?
      • When do I take the medication?
      • How do I store the medication?
      • Do I need to let it sit outside of the refrigerator for a while before I inject it?
      • What do I do with the used needles?
    • Support
      • Is there someone I can call if I have questions about how to take the medication?
      • Can I get some help with getting my insurance company to cover the medication?
    • Financial assistance
      • Are there discounts, copay cards, or financial assistance programs to reduce the cost of the medication?

Established patients visit medication websites looking for answers to questions that arise infrequently, such as:

    • How do I travel with the medication?
    • What do I do if I accidentally left the medication out of the refrigerator for a long period of time?
    • Is this condition I’m experiencing a side effect of the medication?
    • What is the phone number to call for support?
    • How do I renew my copay card?

UX research is key to designing effective medication websites

Understanding patients’ goals, and the information they seek about medications, is the key to designing effective medication websites. From our extensive in-depth interviews and usability testing of pharmaceutical company websites, we have learned the best practices and problems to avoid in medication websites. Our next article in this series will present those best practices.

Written by

Jim Ross

Jim Ross is a Principal UX Researcher at AnswerLab where he leads research with clients to help them better understand their customers, in order to create experiences that people love. He has over 20 years of experience in UX research and design, is a frequent speaker at UX conferences, and is a prolific author for UX magazines and blogs.

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