Evaluating the Process of Online Health Information Searching: A Qualitative Approach to Exploring Consumer Perspectives

TitleEvaluating the Process of Online Health Information Searching: A Qualitative Approach to Exploring Consumer Perspectives
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsAlexander Fiksdal, Ashok Kumbamu, Ashutosh Jadhav, Cristian Cocos, Laurie Nelsen, Jyotishman Pathak, Jennifer McCormick
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Date Published07/2014
KeywordsConsumer Health Information, Information Seeking Behavior, Internet, Qualitative Research

Background: The Internet is becoming a common resource that patients and consumers use to access health-related information. Multiple practical, cultural, and socioeconomic factors influence why, when, and how people utilize this tool. The multitude of preferred vocabularies used to describe medical conditions and concepts represents a major challenge for content providers in providing relevant search results and information to consumers. Although a wide body of quantitative research examining search behavior exists, qualitative approaches have been under-utilized and provide unique perspectives that may prove useful in improving the delivery of health information over the Internet. Objective: We conducted this study to gain a deeper understanding of online health-searching behavior in order to inform future developments of personalizing information searching and content delivery. Methods: We completed three focus groups of adult Olmsted County, MN residents that explored perceptions of online health information searching. Participants were recruited through flyers and classifieds advertisements posted throughout the community. We audio recorded and transcribed all focus groups, and analyzed data using standard qualitative methods. Results: Almost all participants reported using the Internet to gather health information. They described a common experience of searching, filtering, and comparing results in order to obtain information relevant to their intended search target. Information saturation and fatigue were cited as main reasons for terminating searching. This information was often used as a resource to enhance their interactions with health care providers. Conclusions: Many participants viewed the Internet as a valuable tool for finding health information in order to support their existing healthcare resources. As the length of interactions between patients and providers continues to decrease, health information retrieved from the Internet will play an increasingly important role in health care. Although the Internet is a preferred source of health information, challenges persist in streamlining the search process. Content providers should continue to develop new strategies and technologies aimed at accommodating diverse populations, vocabularies, and health information needs.