Internet Attracting Health Seeking Searchers, Cyberchondriacs

Health site visitors and interest up


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Searching the Internet for health and wellness information has hit a new high. The group sometimes referred to as “cyberchondriacs” at one end of the interest scale and “wellness watchers” at the other end now totals 136 million people, a 16 percent increase from last year. 

Who are these medical, health, and fitness information seekers?   Visitors to health and medical information web sites are more likely to be female than male (57 percent vs. 43 percent) who access the Internet from both home and business.  Health, fitness, and nutrition information seekers are likely to be ages 35-55 and spend about six minutes on sites of interest.  This group’s two key reasons for the search is personal interest in the subject area and to prepare for a discussion with a doctor.  Nearly half of adults who have gone online to get health information say that they have discussed this information with their doctor at least once. Healthy subject surfing isn’t limited to adults; one in four teens have used the Internet to search for health-related information.


The interest in online health content has been constant in the constantly changing environment.  In 1998, when less than one in hour American households were using the Internet, most of them (71 percent) had looked online for health information.  In 2006, when the vast majority of American households are Internet users (77 percent), the interest is keeping pace.  Eighty percent of online adults, 136 million people, have searched for health information.  Many of them check this interest category at least monthly.

 

1998

2003

2006

All adults online

38 %

67%

77%

All online adults who have ever looked online for health information

71%

78%

80%

In millions, all adults who have ever looked online for health information

54 million

109 million

136 million

Source: US Census Bureau, Harris Interactive


Most health-related searchers tend to move from general interest to a specific subject.  The first stop tends to be a portal or search engine that offers general health or wellness related information and the ability to see multiple site choices. Combination portal and search sites like MSN and YAHOO are two popular examples. 
MSN makes the search starting point easier by placing their “Health & Fitness” tab top center on the portal’s home page.  Yahoo keeps you looking longer, placing its button in the bottom left corner. Each of these mega portals has a mini site that you can reach directly by entering http://www.health.msn.com/ or http://www.health.yahoo.com/.


The business model driving MSN and Yahoo’s content sites is attracting customers and selling them more things.  On any given day, the subject matter might be that day’s top health news, a brief article with a catchy title like “How To Fill Your Plate To Lose Weight’, and each place includes strategically placed advertiser content offering you active wear for colder weather, weight loss, and health videos. In a recent survey, three of the most popular brand sites are WebMD, Weight Watchers, and About & Fitness.  The Mayo Clinic site was number nine in the top 10.  Nielsen/Netratings says the top spending advertisers are likely to be weight loss and pharmaceutical companies.
Safety Tip: The key to remember when doing any subject searching is to use multiple, reliable, subject expert sites.  At best consider the Internet informational rather than diagnostic. 


In addition to being a potentially excellent health and fitness resource, the Internet also abounds in inaccurate and fraudulent health related content.  Use all the same safety precautions regarding your personal information as you would on any other site.

 

 

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