February 28, 2007, 12:00 AM

Health care e-commerce is nothing to sneeze at

Last year an estimated 18.3 million U.S. adults purchased health-related products online, according to a new survey. Driving this e-commerce category is information: The Internet empowers individuals to seek more information about what ails them.

 

In 2006 an estimated 18.3 million U.S. adults purchased health-related products online, according to a Manhattan Research LLC survey. Driving this e-commerce category is information: The Internet empowers individuals to seek more information about what ails them.

“Health information is one of the most popular categories researched online today,” says Mark Bard, president of Manhattan Research. “The growth curve has been straight up over the past decade; the population looking for health information online has grown from approximately 10 million back in 2000 to more than 100 million U.S. adults today.”

The e-commerce market for health care encompasses a broad range of products, including pharmaceuticals, vitamins, natural health remedies, vision care, medical supplies and beauty items.

E-retailers are hitching their wagons to the health care star by focusing on what makes shopping on the Internet convenient and unique, experts say. There are three primary factors that are helping drive health care e-commerce. First, privacy. Being able to buy certain products in private at home is a plus for many shoppers.

Second, special services such as drugstore.com Inc.’s flexible spending account help consumers track health care spending and ease payment for what can be high-priced but immediately necessary products. And third, Internet-based health care stores often stock items that are hard to find in stores.

“We are trying to reinvent the way people buy health products,” says Jonathan Tinter, chief marketing officer at drugstore.com. “And as more and more customers become comfortable online, the percentage of customers who are willing to buy health-related goods online has been increasing.”

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