Net Attracts Health-Seeking Surfers

There have been no new epidemics reported of Internet users rushing online for health information, according to research from Harris Interactive, which found “cyberchondria” nearly flat in the February 2004 report. Harris Interactive calculated that 111 million adults have looked for health information on the Internet, compared to 109 million in 2003 and 110 million in 2002.

The annual survey of more than 1,000 American adults found that 74 percent of all those online have looked on the Internet for health information, with fewer indicating they look “sometimes” than indicated in surveys from the past two years.


Frequency of Accessing Health Care
Information Online
2002 2003 2004
Often 18% 17% 19%
Sometimes 35% 37% 31%
Hardly ever 27% 23% 24%
Never 20% 22% 26%
Source: Harris Interactive

Despite the volume of health information seekers, it is unlikely that physicians will partner with popular health sites to perform paid online consultations. Jupiter Research (a unit of this site’s corporate parent) found that only 3 percent of adult Internet users held online clinical consultations with their doctors in 2003, even though 65 percent of adult Internet users said they were interested in using this service in 2002.

While roughly three-quarters of the Internet population have used the Web for health information in 2003, the number can be misleading. Monique Levy, health analyst, Jupiter Research, says, “Most are using the Web as a tool to gather information, but not necessarily to manage health or benefits. Only 7 percent used an interactive tool to manage a chronic health complaint in 2003.”

Even with high consumer demand, physicians are reluctant to market their services unless they are compensated, and Levy’s research revealed that 92 percent of consumers are unwilling to pay more than $10 for an online consultation even after taking into consideration the time and cost involved in seeing a doctor face-to-face.

“A lot of things need to be aligned before it [online consultation] becomes a trend. Insurers need to be involved and will take a long time,” says Levy.

According to the Harris Interactive poll, 51 percent of the online health information seekers first went to a portal or search engine which allowed them to search for health information across many different sites, while 23 percent went to sites that focus only on health-related topics. Another 14 percent said they went to a site that focuses on many subjects and that may also have a section devoted to health issues.

Measurements from Hitwise indicate that the Health and Medical category has seen more than a 30 percent increase in share of all U.S. visits since January 2003. More specifically, in the Health and Medical – Information category, WebMD captured the largest portion of individuals during March 2004. Interestingly, the top three search terms that led to visits to Health and Medical – Information Web sites were variations of WebMD. “Pregnancy,” “medical dictionary,” “herpes,” and “depression” were also among the most popular search terms that resulted in visits.

Portals Yahoo and MSN also grabbed some of the visitors seeking general information on health and wellness and healthy lifestyle, including online medical help and advice, self-diagnosis, general layperson medical reference.


Most Visited Health and Medical –
Information Sites, March 2004, U.S.
Site Market Share
My WebMD 10.61%
WebMD 9.84%
Yahoo Health 3.68%
MSN Health 2.52%
Emedicine 2.24%
Med Help International 2.00%
Medscape 1.76%
MayoClinic.com 1.67%
Kids Health 1.62%
RealAge 1.43%
Source: Hitwise

March 2004 demographic data from Hitwise revealed that most of the visitors to Health and Medical – Information Web sites were higher earning 35 to 44 year-old females who accessed the Internet from home. The average session duration for the Health and Medical – Information category was 6 minutes 26 seconds.

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