Searching the Internet for health care information has become more widespread in the past year. Over the last two years, the number of people who have used the Internet to search for health-related information has also increased markedly, from 53% in 2005 to 71%. This brings the number of all US adults who have ever searched for health information online ("cyberchondriacs") to 160-million, up from 136-million in 2006 and 117-million in 2005 – a 37% increase over two years.
The proportion of these "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 believes the information to be at least somewhat reliable, and most of them have talked to their physicians about the information they found on the Internet.
These are some of the results of a Harris Interactive Poll of US adults.
Specifically, the survey found:
* The number of US adults who have ever gone online to look for health or medical information has increased to about 160-million, up from about 136-million last year. The reasons for this increase are that the total number of Internet users has increased somewhat and the percent of people online who have looked for information has increased as well. 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;
* Interestingly, 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, this 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%) continues 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% now; and
* Fully 86% of cyberchondriacs say that the health information they found online was reliable (26% "very reliable" and 60% "somewhat reliable"). Interestingly, this has declined slightly from 2005 when 90% felt this way. Of special note, the percentage of those who indicate that online medical information was "very reliable" has declined substantially from 37% in 2005 to the current 26%.
Cyberchondriacs are not only using the Internet to educate themselves: many are also using it to assist in their conversations with their physicians. 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. This is an increase of 10% from last year’s 45%.