The Growing Influence and Use Of Health Care Information Obtained Online

    New York, N.Y. – September 15, 2011 – The influence of the Internet on health care and the practice of medicine continues to increase. In the late 1990s Harris first used the word cyberchondriacs to describe the people who go online for health care information. The latest Harris Poll finds that three quarters (74%) of all adults have gone online at some time to look for health information, and that 60% have done so in the previous month. These numbers have not changed significantly since last year but they are much higher now than they were a few years earlier. However there have been increases since the two previous polls in 2009 and 2010 in the numbers of people who say they do this often, who say that their searches were successful, that the information they found was reliable, that they discuss this information with their doctors, and who have searched for information because of a discussion with a doctor.

    These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 1,019 adults surveyed by telephone between August 9 and 15, 2011.

    Some of the most interesting findings in this poll, which all point to the growing importance of online information to patients, include:

    • The proportion of people who are online who report that they often look for information about health topics on the Internet has increased to 39%, up from 22% in 2009, and 32% in 2010;
    • Majorities of cyberchondriacs use search engines (69%) and medical websites (62%) to look for health information online;
    • The proportion of cyberchondriacs who say that their searches were very or somewhat successful has increased to 90% this year, up from 83% in 2009 and 86% in 2010;
    • Cyberchondriacs who say that they believe the information they obtained was reliable has risen to 90% this year from 87% and 85% in the two previous years;
    • Fully 57% of cyberchondriacs report that they discussed information obtained online with their doctors, up from 44% and 53% in the last two years; and
    • Cyberchondriacs who report that they searched online for medical information based on discussions with their doctors has increased to 57% from 49% in 2009 and 51% in 2010.

    So What?

    As the influence of the Internet as a valued source of health care and medical information continues to grow, all stakeholder groups including the health care industry, medical societies, NGOs and government agencies need to work hard to ensure that they are providing the public with relevant, user-friendly and reliable information.

     

    TABLE 1

    CYBERCHONDRIACS: TRENDS 1998-2011

    Base: All U.S. adults

    1998

    1999

    2001

    2003

    2004

    2005

    2006

    2007

    2008

    2009

    2010

    2011

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    All adults who are online

    38

    46

    63

    67

    69

    74

    77

    79

    76

    79

    79

    79

    All online adults who have ever looked online for health information

    71

    74

    75

    78

    74

    72

    80

    84

    81

    78

    88

    89

    All adults who have ever looked online for health information

    27

    34

    47

    52

    51

    53

    61

    71

    66

    67

    76

    74

    All adults who have looked online for health information in last month

    NA

    NA

    27

    NA

    31

    45

    51

    53

    50

    52

    62

    60

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    All adults who have ever looked online for health information

    + (millions)

    54

    69

    97

    109

    111

    117

    136

    160

    150

    154

    175

    173

    Includes those online from home, office, school, library or other location

    + Based on 2009/2010 U.S. Census estimate (233,720,373 total U.S. adults aged 18 or over).

    NA = Not Asked

     

    TABLE 2

    FREQUENCY OF ACCESSING HEALTH INFORMATION ONLINE: 1998-2011

    How often do you look for information online about health topics – often, sometimes, hardly ever or never?

    Base: All U.S. adults who are online

    1998

    1999

    2001

    2003

    2004

    2005

    2006

    2007

    2008

    2009

    2010

    2011

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Often

    12

    13

    16

    17

    19

    25

    21

    26

    25

    22

    32

    39

    Sometimes

    30

    30

    30

    37

    31

    33

    40

    40

    38

    35

    41

    34

    Hardly ever

    29

    31

    30

    23

    24

    14

    19

    18

    17

    21

    15

    16

    Never

    29

    26

    25

    22

    26

    29

    20

    16

    19

    22

    11

    11

    Total who have looked for health or medical information sometimes or often (NET)

    42

    43

    46

    54

    50

    58

    61

    66

    64

    57

    73

    73

    Total who have ever looked for health or medical information (NET)

    71

    74

    75

    78

    74

    72

    80

    84

    81

    78

    88

    89

    Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding

    Includes those online from home, office, school, library or other location

     

    TABLE 3

    SOURCES USED FOR HEALTH INFORMATION ONLINE

    When you look for information online about health topics, where do you usually go to look for information?

    Base: Have ever looked for health information online

    Total

    %

    Search engines (e.g. Google, Bing)

    69

    Medical websites (e.g. WebMD)

    62

    Forums where people ask/answer questions

    16

    Social media websites (e.g. Facebook, Twitter)

    8

    Other

    11

    Not sure

    1

    Decline to answer

     

    Note: Multi response

     

    TABLE 4

    FREQUENCY OF LOOKING FOR HEALTH INFORMATION IN LAST MONTH: 2001-2011

    About how many times have you looked for information online about health topics in the last month?

    Base: Have ever looked for health information online

    2001

    2003

    2004

    2005

    2006

    2007

    2008

    2009

    2010

    2011

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Not once

    40

    NA

    21

    14

    23

    26

    25

    22

    17

    19

    1 or more (NET)

    58

    NA

    60

    85

    76

    74

    75

    77

    81

    81

    1 or 2 times

    29

    NA

    26

    31

    35

    30

    31

    33

    33

    31

    3 – 5 times

    17

    NA

    14

    29

    23

    21

    25

    21

    26

    26

    6 – 9 times

    3

    NA

    5

    6

    5

    8

    5

    6

    6

    4

    10 or more times

    9

    NA

    15

    19

    14

    16

    14

    18

    17

    19

    Not sure

    2

    NA

    19

    1

    1

     

     

    1

    2

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Mean (average)

    3.0

    NA

    5.1

    6.8

    5.2

    5.7

    4.8

    5.4

    6.0

    7.9

    Median

    1.1

    NA

    2.0

    3.0

    2

    2

    2

    2

    2

    3

    Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding.

    NA = Not asked in 2003

     

    TABLE 5

    Success in Searching for Information Online about Health Topics: 2005-2011

    How successful were you in your search for information online about health topics? Were you…?

    Base: Have ever looked for health information online

    2005

    2006

    2007

    2008

    2009

    2010

    2011

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    SUCCESSFUL (NET)

    89

    88

    88

    89

    83

    86

    90

    Very successful

    46

    42

    37

    41

    45

    41

    44

    Somewhat successful

    43

    46

    50

    48

    38

    45

    46

    Neither successful nor unsuccessful

    2

    4

    5

    3

    5

    4

    2

    UNSUCCESSFUL (NET)

    6

    7

    6

    4

    9

    9

    6

    Somewhat unsuccessful

    3

    4

    3

    2

    4

    6

    3

    Very unsuccessful

    3

    3

    3

    2

    4

    3

    2

    Not sure/Decline to answer

    3

    1

    1

    4

    4

    2

    2

    Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding.

     

    TABLE 6

    Reliability of Searching for Information Online about Health Topics: 2005-2011

    How reliable do you believe this information is concerning health topics? Is it…?

    Base: Have ever looked for health information online

    2005

    2006

    2007

    2008

    2009

    2010

    2011

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    RELIABLE (NET)

    90

    87

    86

    86

    87

    85

    90

    Very reliable

    37

    25

    26

    24

    28

    23

    24

    Somewhat reliable

    53

    61

    60

    62

    59

    62

    66

    Neither reliable nor unreliable

    4

    7

    6

    5

    4

    5

    4

    UNRELIABLE (NET )

    5

    5

    7

    6

    7

    8

    4

    Somewhat unreliable

    3

    5

    6

    4

    4

    5

    3

    Very unreliable

    2

    1

    1

    2

    3

    2

    1

    Not sure/Decline to answer

    1

    2

    1

    3

    2

    2

    2

    Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding.

     

    TABLE 7

    Discussion with Doctor About Information Found Online: 2005-2011

    In the past year, have you ever discussed with your doctor the information you found online?

    Base: Have ever looked for health information online

    2005

    2006

    2007

    2008

    2009

    2010

    2011

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Yes (NET)

    57

    52

    58

    47

    44

    53

    57

    Yes, always do

    15

    13

    12

    13

    7

    14

    15

    Yes, sometimes do

    25

    21

    22

    15

    22

    25

    22

    Yes, have done once or twice

    18

    19

    24

    19

    15

    15

    20

    No, never do

    43

    48

    42

    53

    56

    46

    43

    Not sure/Decline to answer

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding

    Less than 0.5 percent.

     

     

     

    TABLE 8

    Frequency of Searching Medical Information Online Based on

    Discussion with Doctor: 2005-2011

    Have you ever searched for medical information on the Internet based on a discussion with your doctor?

    Base: Have ever looked for health information online

    2005

    2006

    2007

    2008

    2009

    2010

    2011

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Yes (NET)

    52

    45

    55

    49

    49

    51

    57

    Yes, often

    17

    14

    17

    12

    14

    17

    17

    Yes, sometimes

    36

    31

    38

    38

    35

    35

    40

    No, never

    48

    55

    45

    50

    51

    49

    42

    Not sure/Decline to answer

     

     

     

     

     

     

    1

    Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding

    Less than 0.5 percent.

     

    Methodology

    This Harris Poll® was conducted by telephone within the United States between August 9 and 15, 2011 among 1,019 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region, number of adults in the household, number of phone lines in the household were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population.

    All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

    These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

    The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

    J40515

    Q705-730

    The Harris Poll® #98, September 15, 2011

    By Humphrey Taylor, Chairman The Harris Poll