ABSTRACT: Over 110 million Americans have accessed the internet for healthcare information. This information is often used in medical consultations and possibly contributing to increasing health care burdens. Although well informed patients are an advantage in disease management, the quality and reliability of information online is variable. Adolescents today have grown up with the Internet as a primary knowledge source, but still lack the skills to effectively filter credible information. Voluntary standards on health information have been attempted by Health on the Net Foundation; however their success has been limited, mainly due to the fact that most people searching for health information on line use a search engine rather than a specific site. This makes regulations almost impossible. Cyberchondriacs, a term used to describe anyone who seeks health-related information on the Internet, are not only at risk of acquiring unreliable information on line and therefore potential unnecessary anxiety, but they could also be financially exploited, for example, by e-health organisations and pharmaceutical companies. Moreover, the vulnerable e-health seeker, such as the inexperienced adolescent, is able to buy any quantity of nearly any medication on-line. Reasons for patients seeking information on line are varied, but include not having enough time at consultations. To try to address these issues, organisations such as NHS direct have been set up but their success is difficult to measure due to a lack of data. However, potential exploitation of a vulnerable population and the motivations behind their search for information on the internet merit further study.
International journal of adolescent medicine and health 18(2):209-13.