Eighty percent of American adults who have access to the internet have used it to seek health or medical information, compared to 75% surveyed at the same time in 2001, according to market research by US pollsters, Harris Interactive.

However, among these health information seekers – dubbed “cyberchondriacs” by Harris – only a small proportion (18%) used online health sites often. The highest proportion – 35% – said they used the net for health information sometimes. In the previous year 16% said they often looked to the internet for health information and 30% said they sometimes did.

The figures for cyberchondriacs who said they “hardly ever” used the net for health information fell from 30% to 27%.

A small majority (53%) of those who seek health information start by using a portal or search engine which allows them to browse across different websites. About a quarter (26%) go straight to a site that focuses on health-related issues and about 12% visit a general site that offers a section on health issues.

Demographically, cyberchondriacs tend to be younger, better educated and more affluent than the general population. Men and women appear to be equally interested in health information with 59% and 60% respectively classed as cyberchondriacs.

Harris Interactive says that the survey shows huge and growing interest in getting information about particular diseases or treatments or staying healthy. The company points out the importance of making health websites quickly and easily accessible through search engines and portals.