Cyberchondria is Spreading

Harris Interactive is citing a significant outbreak of Internet users who go online to look for information about health topics. Dubbed “cyberchondriacs,” the U.S. numbers have grown from 54 million in 1998 to 110 million in the latest (March 2002) survey.

The four-country study was conducted online in January 2002 with 309 cyberchondriacs in the U.S., 327 in France, 407 in Germany and 275 in Japan — countries with big pharmaceutical markets.

The survey revealed that many health surfers are logging on for information on specific medical conditions. This activity is most common in the U.S. and Germany (26 percent and 25 percent, respectively), with France not far behind at 19 percent. It is much less common in Japan where 6 percent do it often and 34 percent of all cyberchondriacs never look for information about a specific medical condition.

Harris Interactive found that the types of Web sites cyberchondriacs visited vary somewhat from country to country:

  • In the U.S., the most visited sites are medical journals (45 percent), commercial health pages (44 percent) and academic or research institutions (43 percent).
  • In France, 52 percent visit commercial health pages, and half visit academic or research institutions.
  • 40 percent of Germans that were surveyed went online to visit commercial health pages, while 50 percent visited academic or research institutions.
  • In Japan, patient advocacy or support groups (46 percent) top the list, followed by hospital sites (36 percent) and government sites (34 percent).

In a few cases, particularly in Japan, people only look for information if their doctor tells them to do so. Most people can be divided between two large groups (in all four countries). One group (from 60 percent of American cyberchondriacs to 47 percent in Japan) says they look for information on their own but rely on it only if their doctor tells them to do so. The other large group (from 37 percent in Japan to 46 percent in Germany) says they mainly judge the information on their own without consulting their doctors.

Both Harris Interactive and The Pew Internet & American Life Project found that large numbers of cyberchondriacs look for health information not only for themselves, but for their spouses, children, friends, parents, and other family members too.

Pew’s research revealed that of the 45 million Internet users who have helped another person deal with a major illness in the past two years, 26 percent said that the Web played an important role; 31 percent said the Web played a minor role. Many more women than men accessed online health information, which is an indication of their care-giving status. Some 21 million people had an illness themselves, and of that group, 24 percent acknowledged the major role the Internet played in research.

Demographic Profile of U.S. Cyberchondriacs
% of all adults who have looked
for health information online
18 – 29 82%
30 – 39 68%
40 – 49 63%
50 – 64 49%
65 + 26%
Male 59%
Female 60%
High School or less 49%
Some College 63%
College graduate 75%
Post graduate 84%
Less than $15,000 50%
$15,000 to $24,999 45%
$25,000 to $34,999 55%
$35,000 to $49,999 53%
$50,000 to $75,999 67%
$75,000 and over 77%
Source: Harris Interactive

Incidence of Cyberchondriacs in the Big Four Pharmaceutical Markets: January 2002
  U.S. France Germany Japan
Online population (% of all adults online) 66% 35% 44% 42%
% of all those online who ever looked for health care information on the Internet 80% 69% 86% 90%
% of all adults who ever looked for health care information on the Internet 53% 24% 38% 38%
Number of adults who ever looked for health care information on the Internet 110M 14M 31M 48M
Source: Global Cyberchondriacs Study, Harris Interactive, January 2002 and The Harris Poll, March 2002.


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