“Internet provides public with health care information that they value and trust and which often stimulates discussion with their doctors,” concludes the latest Harris Poll into cyberchondria, a term that the organization began using in 2002.

But Harris Poll’s survey yields a different conclusion for me that I think is a sign of the times: the proportion of health info seekers sharing information with physicians is declining.

Take a look at the graph that I constructed from Harris’s data asking the question, “In the past year, have you ever discussed with your doctor the information you found online?”

The propotion in 2009 answering some form of “yes” totalled 44%, comprised of:
  • 7% saying, “yes, I always do,” down from 15% in 2005;
  • 22% saying, “yes, I sometimes do,” down from 25% in 2005; and,
  • 15% saying, “yes, have done once or twice,” down from 18%.

On the other hand, the proportion of health info seekers online saying they “never” share information with their doctors is up from 43% in 2005 to 56% in 2009.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: What factors might be driving American online health information seekers to not share findings with physicians? there was a big drop from 58% to 44% in the “yes, I share” cohort between 2007 and 2008 — about the time when recessionary forces began to kick in and health consumers’ out-of-pocket costs for health care continued to explode. The 14 percentage point drop between 2005 and 2009 is about 24%, or 1 in 4 people.

We know from data gleaned by the Kaiser Family Foundation on Americans’ health behaviors in the recession that more Sisters (and Brothers) are Doing It For Themselves — that is, undertaking care at home via more over-the-counter medications, home remedies, and peer-to-peer health support from family and friends, and “people like me” on- and offline. 49% of Americans have changed their health behaviors in the past year due to cost, according to KFF’s July 2009 Health Tracking Poll, including skipping doses of medicine, cutting pills in half, postponing health care they need, and relying on home remedies.

While the Internet has become a complement with physician services for many American health citizens, it may provide, at least during the recession, a short-term replacement for some Americans who are skipping visits to providers. Is this a sign of the new peer-to-peer, participatory health?