The Online Doctor Is In

Let’s hope someone is studying the health effects of seeking health information online. A Harris Poll finds 97 million Americans use the Internet for that purpose. (Adding insult to whatever injury these people may or may not have, Harris calls them “cyberchondriacs.”) Among adults in general, 47 percent fall into this category—up from 27 percent in June/July 1998. Among online adults, 75 percent do so—up from 71 percent in 1998. The chart below gives some detail on the frequency of their searches. Among cyberchondriacs who are heavy users of the Internet, the average number of such info-forays is 6.1 per month, versus 3.3 for cyberchondriacs in general and 1.3 for light Internet users. The poll also asked respondents to say how they began their search the last time they sought such material online. A slight majority (52 percent) said they started out with a portal or search engine that lets them hunt “across manydifferent sites”; 24 percent went to a site that “focuses only on health-related topics”; and 16 percent began with a site that deals with lots of topics but “may have a section devoted to health issues.” Thus, the Web-site loyalties of many cyberchondriacs are up for grabs.