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Some 150 million people have gone online to obtain healthcare information – 66% of all adults, and 81% of those who are online – but that 2008 number is down from 2007’s 160 million, according to an annual Harris Poll of people whom Harris labels “cyberchondriacs.”

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In 1998, the first time that the Harris Poll measured online health info seekers, the number of cyberchondriacs was 54 million; they numbered 110 million in 2002, and 160 million in 2007.

The difference between this year’s and last year’s survey results reflects two modest changes, Harris said:

  1. A year ago 79% of all adults were reported online, while this year’s survey finds that 76% are online.
  2. Last year, 84% of those online said they have ever looked for healthcare information online, whereas this year’s survey finds 81%.

Both of those small changes are within the possible sampling error for these surveys and could explain the apparent difference in total number from last year to this year, Harris said.

Among other findings of the nationwide Harris Poll:

  • A quarter (25%) of those online go online for healthcare information often, virtually unchanged from last year (26%):

harris-cyberchondriacs-health-info-online-access-frequency-2008.jpg

  • On average, cyberchondriacs look for healthcare information online 4.8 times a month:

harris-cyberchondriacs-health-info-online-access-frequency-previous-month-2008.jpg

  • The overwhelming majority of cyberchondriacs continue to believe that the information they obtain is reliable (86%):

harris-cyberchondriacs-health-info-online-reliability-2008.jpg

  • Similarly large proportions (89%) report that they were successful in their search:

harris-cyberchondriacs-health-info-search-success-2008.jpg

  • Just under half (47%) of cyberchondriacs have discussed the information they obtained online with their doctors:

harris-cyberchondriacs-health-info-discussion-with-doctor-2008.jpg

  • Virtually half (49%) of cyberchondriacs have gone online to look for information as a result of discussions with their doctors:

harris-cyberchondriacs-health-info-search-initiated-after-discussion-with-doctor-2008.jpg

“The rapid growth in the number of cyberchondriacs seems to have plateaued, but we do not know if this pause is temporary or more permanent,” said Humphrey Taylor, chairman of The Harris Poll.

“This survey confirms that the internet continues to be an important source of healthcare information for very large numbers of people, and most people trust the information they obtain and find it useful,” he concluded.

About the data: This Harris Poll was conducted by telephone within the United States between July 8 and 13, 2008 among 1,010 adults (aged 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.

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