The number of people who have used the internet to search for health-related information has increased markedly, from 53% in 2005 to 71% currently, bringing the number of US adults who have ever searched for health information online to 160 million, according to Harris Interactive.
That’s an increase from 136 million “cyberchondriacs,” as Harris terms them, in 2006 and 117 million in 2005 – a 37% increase over two years.
The proportion of cyberchondriacs who search online either often or sometimes has also risen. Most adults who have ever looked for health information online claim that they have been at least somewhat successful in finding what they were looking for.
In addition, the great majority say they believe the information to be at least somewhat reliable, and most have talked to their physicians about the information they found on the internet.
Among the findings of the Harris survey:
- The number of US adults who have ever gone online to look for health or medical information has increased to approximately 160 million up from about 136 million last year.
- Cyberchondriacs now represent 84% of all online adults, up from last year’s 80%, and 72% in 2005.
- Two thirds (66%) of adults online say that they have looked for information about health topics often (26%) or sometimes (40%), an increase of five percentage points from 2006 (61%).
- The percentage of online adults who say they hardly ever or never search for health information has dropped to 34%, down from 39% last year and 43% in 2005.
- While three-quarters (74%) of those who have ever searched the internet for health information have done so once or more often in the last month, that proportion is down from 2005, when 85% said that they had gone online one or more times in the past month looking for health information.
- On average, a cyberchondriac searches the internet almost six (5.7) times per month.
- As in the past, a large majority of cyberchondriacs (88%) continue to report that they were successful in searching for health information online.
- However, the percentage of those who say they were “very successful” has declined from 46% two years ago and 42% last year to only 37%.
- Fully 86% of cyberchondriacs say the health information they found online was reliable (26% “very reliable” and 60% “somewhat reliable”):
- This proportion has declined slightly from 2005, when 90% said they felt this way.
- The percentage of those who indicate that online medical information was “very reliable” has declined substantially from 37% in 2005 to the current 26%.
- A 58% majority of adults who have gone online to get health information say that they have discussed this information with their doctors at least once in the last year.
- Furthermore, more than half (55%) of cyberchondriacs have searched for health information based on discussions with their doctors – an increase of 10 percentage points from last year’s 45%.
“The huge and growing numbers of ‘cyberchondriacs’ who use the internet to look for health information and to help them have better conversations with their doctors has surely had a big impact on the knowledge of patients, the questions they ask their doctors and is therefore changing the doctor-patient relationship and the practice of medicine,” Harris said.
About the survey: This Harris Poll was conducted by telephone within the United States between July 10 and 16, 2007 among 1,010 adults (age 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region, number of adults in the household, number of phone lines in the household were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population.