August 7, 2007

Cyberchondriac, (don’t) heal thyself

Patients are looking increasingly to the Internet for health information, according to a recent telephone poll of 1,010 U.S. adults conducted in July by Harris Interactive, Inc. Currently, 71% of American adults are what Harris refers to as cyberchondriacs, defined as “anyone who has ever looked online for health information.” As reported in an August 1st article published online at PC World, “Poll Shows Growing Number of Cyberchondriacs,” their numbers have more than tripled since 1998 (the first year Harris conducted the poll) from 53 million to a current 160 million adult Americans. The increase is gaining exponentially too, with a 37% increase in just the past two years. Other key findings: cyberchondriacs “search the Internet about 5.7 times a month to get health information…88% are successful in finding the health information they wanted…about 58% discussed the health information they gathered online with their doctors at least once in the last year, and 55% said they searched for health information based on discussions with their doctors,” up 10% from last year.

According to its director, Harris pollsters coined the term cyberchondriac as a positive reference. ”They’re not second-guessing their doctors, but they’re using a tool that wasn’t available a few years ago. They can get more information and a second opinion.” Dr. Rick Kellerman, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians cautioned that while the searching online for health information can be beneficial to patients and physicians, people have to be careful of Internet sources. In the end, “it may even mean that the need for that personal physician is even more important today than in the past. The problem is there’s so much information overload and you need someone to help figure out what applies to you.”

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