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Survey: US becomes nation of cyberchondriacs

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Almost two thirds of all US adults have been identified as "cyberchondriacs" in a new Harris poll tracking the number of people looking up health information online.

The survey found that after three years of modest growth, the number of adults asking Dr Google for advice had jumped by 16 per cent, to 136m. The researchers say that part of this rise has been caused by a significant increase in the number of Americans with access to the internet - now standing at 77 per cent of all adults.

Of these, 80 per cent have looked up medical conditions online, up from 72 per cent in 2005, and six in 10 say they often use the web for this purpose.

The average cyberchondriac, Harris says, searches the web for information five times a month. But these net users are also becoming more savvy, with the number of people describing the information they find as "very reliable" falling from 37 per cent in 2005 to just 25 per cent this year.

Despite this, most users say their searching did turn up the information they were looking for, perhaps accounting for a small drop in the number of people who say they discuss their findings with their doctors. This fell from 57 per cent in 2005 to 52 per cent in 2006.

The cyberchondriac is apparently less likely to search the web to check on their doctor's advice. Just 45 per cent of those surveyed said they would use the net for further research following a chat with their doctor, down seven per cent on last year.

Harris bases its findings on telephone interviews with 1,020 adults in the USA. ®

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