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Internet the go-to place for health information

A poll finds nearly all Web users have searched for answers to their medical questions, more than half after doctors' visits.

By Pamela Lewis Dolan — Posted Aug. 25, 2010

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How many Internet users search for health information? According to one poll, almost all of them.

According to a Harris Poll, 88% of Internet users have looked for health information online. The number has grown steadily since Harris' first poll on the subject in 1998, when 71% of Internet users reported looking for health information. The number passed the 80% threshold in 2006.

A poll of 1,066 adults conducted between July 13 and 18 found the number of "cyberchondriacs," the name Harris gave in 2005 to those who search the Internet for health information, rose from 154 million in 2009 to 175 million in 2010. The survey found an increase in the frequency with which they turn to the Internet. Searchers are generally happy with what they find (link).

Findings include:

  • 62% said they looked online for information within the past month; 17% said they looked 10 or more times.
  • 32% say they go to the Internet often, up from 22% a year ago.
  • Of those who have used the Internet to find health information, 86% say their searches were successful and 41% of those found the search "very successful."
  • 85% found the information to be reliable, which is down from 90% in 2005.

The survey said that more than half of those who turn to the Internet for information have done so based on discussions with their doctors. Fifty-three percent said they have talked about what they found with their physicians, which was up from 44% a year ago but down from 57% in 2005.

A separate Harris Poll conducted earlier in 2010 found that more than half of the women surveyed turn to the Internet first when seeking health information, compared with 38% of men. The survey found they not only search for information on their own behalf, but for their children as well.

Experts recommend that physicians have a list of trusted online sources to give to patients who use the Internet for health-related searches.

The American Medical Association encourages physician involvement in online resource sites and developed policy in 2003 to guide physicians on their involvement in them. The guidelines advise physicians to ensure that information they are responsible for is accurate, timely, reliable and scientifically sound.

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