For most people, researching a new book or electronics product on the Internet is no big thing. After all, if they get bad information that causes them to buy something that stinks, they’re only out a little bit of money. Not much real harm is done. But when it comes to their health, people tend not to screw around: They want the best possible sources of information about symptoms, ailments and cures.
That’s why the results of a recent Harris Interactive telephone survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults are so significant. According to the poll, about 80 percent of adults in the United States use the Internet to find health-related data, up from 72 percent last year. What’s more, a 52 percent majority of these adults are using the information they find online to prepare for discussions with their doctors, although this amount is down slightly from the previous year.
The Harris study labels this group of people “cyberchondriacs,” a play on the term “hypochondriac,” which describes someone who psychosomatically dreams up an illness for themselves. However, this characterization, while clever, does not quite explain the people who use the Internet to research medicinal topics. More likely, an aging and increasingly tech-savvy population turns in greater numbers and frequency to the Web.
Indeed, this poll tells us less about people, who will always gravitate towards the best sources on health information and advice, and more about the Internet, which increasingly offers clear, reliable and easy-to-find facts, anecdotes, reviews and other data, usually for free. It’s cliché, sure, but news like this is indicative of the “2.0” phase of the Web. It’s faster, more user-friendly, participatory and trustworthy. Also, refined online search engines have made this information easier to find. The Harris poll bears this out as well: Forty-two percent said they were very successful, and another 46 percent said they were somewhat successful in their online searches.