Online Health Information Seeking

The purpose of this research study is to gain a better understanding of how people find, verify, and use information from the Internet.

Primary questions include:

  • How do users verify the reliability and accuracy of online health information?

Once the information has been verified by the user the questions become

  • What does the user do with this information?
  • Do they discuss it with a doctor, a friend, a family member, someone else? Do they act on the recommendations without advice?

Internet users frequently search for health information online. Research suggests that 80% (Fox, 2011) of Internet users have searched for health information. However, much of the recent research across multiple disciplines and fields has confined itself to small, qualitative studies of highly specific populations (e.g. Liang, Xue, & Chase, 2011; Ossebaard, Seydel & van Gemert-Pijnen, 2012) or researchers are using existing quantitative data sets to provide insights into general searching patterns (e.g., Miller & Bell, 2012; Sadasivam,, 2012). Moreover, the Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS) that the National Cancer Institute has administered since 2003 fails to adequately and directly address the primary concern of this study, that is, how do users determine which sources to believe (verify) and then how they use this information, if at all.

Online health information cannot be improved without a better understanding of what users look for to verify the reliability of the information and even more so, what they do with the information once they believe it is reliable. This research is significant in technical and professional communication because it will help us understand how to improve the content and the delivery of this information. Using survey data, interviews, and eye tracking, we hope to gather enough data to provide insights into the verification and use of online health information.

More information can be found at the project website:


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