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Number Of American 'Cyberchondriacs' Rising

Cyberchondriacs are people who search for health information online, and they represent 80% of all online adults, up from 72% last year.
The number of American "cyberchondriacs," who have gone online for health information, has risen to 136 million, according to Harris Interactive.

A Harris Poll found more people said they have searched the Internet for health information than in previous years, when the trend appeared to slow. Harris Interactive announced Tuesday that the number of people who said they sought health information online at least once jumped 16 percent in 2006, from 117 million in 2005.

Harris attributed some of the increase to an overall rise in Internet use. Seventy-four percent of all U.S. adults went online in 2004 and 77 percent went online in 2006, according to Harris. The company said that "cyberchondriacs," or people who search for health information online, represent 80 percent of all online adults, up from last year's 72 percent.

"For those people who are providing health information, doctors' offices -- pharmaceutical companies and disease associations -- need to understand that a huge portion of the population is getting information online, and if they're not already thinking of online as a means of disseminating information they should," Harris Interactive's Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy Research, David Krane, said during an interview Wednesday.

On average, those people searched in the Internet five times a month, down from about seven times a month one year ago, according to Harris. Seventy-six percent of the people who reported trying to learn about health on the Internet did so at least once in the last month, according to the poll.

The survey, of 1,020 U.S. adults conducted between July 5 and July 11, 2006, showed that most adults searching the Internet for health information found what they were looking for (88 percent) and most believed the information was at least "somewhat reliable." Twenty-five percent said they believed the information was "very reliable," down from 37 percent in 2005.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned that the Internet can be a source of false and fraudulent health information, including wrong drug information, as well as dangerous instructions telling patients to stop taking prescriptions and replace them with "cure-alls." The FDA provides tips for determining the reliability of Web sites with health information. It also provides a list of reliable Web sites.

Less than 45 percent of "cyberchondriacs" said they searched for health information based on a discussion with a doctor.

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Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing