Harris Poll: Number of "Cyberchondriacs" - Adults Going Online for Health Information - Has Plateaued or Declined

Number of "Cyberchondriacs" - Adults Going Online for Health Information - Has Plateaued or Declined 2008 is First Year Since 1998 Not to Show an Increase in Those Going Online for Health Information

ROCHESTER, N.Y. - July 29, 2008 - Ten years ago, in 1998, the Harris Poll began measuring the number of people going online for health care information. At that time we reported that 54 million people had done so at least once. Since then the number of those people, whom we labeled "cyberchondriacs," have increased almost every year, reaching 110 million in 2002, and 160 million in 2007.

This year, the Harris Poll finds only 150 million who claim to have gone online to obtain health care information. Of course, 150 million is still a huge number and includes 66 percent of all adults and 81 percent of those who are online.

A word of caution is necessary. The difference between this year's and last year's survey results reflects two modest changes. A year ago we reported that 79 percent of all adults were online; this year's survey finds that 76 percent are online. Last year, 84 percent of those online said they have ever looked for health care information online; this year's survey finds 81 percent. Both of these small changes are within the possible sampling error for these surveys which could explain the difference.

However, it does appear that there has been no increase in the total number of people online or in the number of cyberchondriacs.

Other interesting findings of the nationwide Harris Poll of 1,010 U.S. adults surveyed by telephone by Harris Interactive between July 8 and 13, 2008 include:

* A quarter (25%) of those online go online for health care information often, virtually unchanged from last year (26%); * On average, cyberchondriacs look for healthcare information online 4.8 times a month; * The overwhelming majority of cyberchondriacs continue to believe that the information they obtain is reliable (86%) and report that they were successful (89%) in their search; * Just under half (47%) of cyberchondriacs have discussed the information they obtained online with their doctors, and virtually half (49%) of cyberchondriacs have gone online to look for information as a result of discussions with their doctors.

So What? According to Humphrey Taylor, Chairman of The Harris Poll, "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. Influential experts have supported the widespread use of the Internet as a way to improve the quality of health care. This survey confirms that the Internet continues to be an important source of health care information for very large numbers of people, and most people trust the information they obtain and find it useful."

As far as we know there are no objective measures of how accurate and reliable such online information actually is and some people have expressed concerns that it is sometimes unreliable. However, since many cyberchondriacs go online as a result of conversations with their doctors and discuss what they find with them, it seems that the Internet is positively contributing to the quality of health care.

1

CYBERCHONDRIACS: TRENDS 1998-2007
Base: All U.S. adults
 
1998
1999
2001
2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
 
All adults who are online*
38
46
63
67
69
74
77
79
76
All online adults who have ever
looked online for health information
71
74
75
78
74
72
80
84
81
All adults who have ever looked
online for health information
27
34
47
52
51
53
61
71
66
All adults who have looked online
for health information in last month
NA
NA
27
NA
31
45
51
53
50
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
All adults who have ever looked
online for health information
+ (millions)
54
69
97
109
111
117
136
160
150
*Includes those online from home, office, school, library or other location
+ Based on July 2007 U.S. Census estimate released January 2008 (227,700,000 total U.S. adults aged 18 or over).
NA = Not Asked
 
 


TABLE 2
FREQUENCY OF ACCESSING HEALTH INFORMATION ONLINE: 1998 - 2008
"How often do you look for information online about health topics - often, sometimes, hardly ever or never?"
Base: All U.S. adults who are online*
 
1998
1999
2001
2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
 
Often
12
13
16
17
19
25
21
26
25
Sometimes
30
30
30
37
31
33
40
40
38
Hardly ever
29
31
30
23
24
14
19
18
17
Never
29
26
25
22
26
     

Posted: July 2008


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