Booster Shots

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Maybe we're less self-obsessed than we used to be

July 29, 2008 | 10:04 am

NewcomputerPerhaps there's only so much self-diagnosing Americans can do before we run out of possible disease symptoms. Or perhaps we've become too busy browsing through the ever-proliferating number of celebrity photo galleries to wonder about those unusual symptoms. (Seizures? Facial paralysis? Phfft. Britney's been photographed in a white bikini!) Whatever the case, the number of us going online for health information appears to have dipped for the first time since 1998.

The Harris Poll has found that our population of what it calls cyberchondriacs has slid from 160 million in 2007 to 150 million this year. This comes after a steady increase from a paltry 54 million in 1998.

The poll folks were quick to point out that the decrease could be explained away with a statistical fluke, adding that when it comes to people who have ever looked online for health information, 66% of American adults overall (and 81% of those who are online) is still a lot of people worried about their health.

Among those responding to the survey, 75% said they had looked for health information in the past month. And 89%  said they were successful in finding what they sought. (That statistic doesn't mean the information was correct -- just that it satisfied the searcher. This is an important distinction and could explain a lot about some of the nation's more colorful health-related discussions.) But this is my favorite part: Only 47% of searchers ended up discussing the information with their doctor.

Maybe they realized that sometimes a pimple really is just a pimple.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo credit: Elaine Thompson / Associated Press