Background: The rise of technology has changed how people take control of their health, enabling individuals to choose to live healthier lives and make better treatment decisions. With this said, the Internet has emerged as the channel used by individuals for actively seeking or passively receiving health information.
Objective: To explore how young adults assess the quality of health information, and how they construct meaning of online health information in general. Through 50 in-depth interviews, this study aims to examine how and why young adults turn to the Web for health information, and what strategies they employ to ensure that they are getting credible information.
There is a dichotomy between young adults and senior citizens and how they seek out health information. Although there was a huge difference between the young and mature or senior demographic, the gap of health literacy has diminished during the past five years..
Normal business transactions, shopping, bill paying, social media have drawn in common daily activities to the internet. Social media has also played a large part in this transaction. The findings of this study may well apply to other segments of the population.
Methods: A total of 50 in-depth interviews were conducted with young adults to explore how they make meaning of online health information. Depending on the geographic area of the participant, the interview took place face-to-face at a location convenient for them, over Skype, or over the telephone and lasted on average 40 minutes. The interviews were transcribed verbatim, fully retaining the speech style of the moderator and the participants. Data were analyzed using techniques from the grounded theory approach, using a constant comparative method to allow for themes to emerge from the transcripts.
Results: The participants shared several benefits to this mode of health information seeking, claiming that it made for more productive visits with doctors and made health information more readily accessible through a variety of different formats. Additionally, the participants demonstrated their e-health literacy levels by discussing how they assessed online health information, engaging in a series of strategies that encompassed different aspects of e-health literacy. Social media channels were brought up by the participants as relatively new tools that can be used to assist in the seeking, understanding, and sharing of health information. However, participants also cautioned about the use of social media in regards to its informal nature, warning users to evaluate sources accordingly and to use these channels as supplementary outlets of information for more traditional channels.
Conclusions: The use of the Internet and technology for health purposes is a growing area for both scholarship and practice that has strong implications for health consumers, medical professionals, and communicators alike. The findings that emerged from this research demonstrated that the online space is an acceptable channel through which young adults can find and share information. However, in spite of the rising usage of social media by this particular group, the findings showed that they were hesitant and wary of the channel, not seeing it as a resource for health information but more of a channel for networking and entertainment. In spite of this, this study shows that the online health information seeking behaviors is an area that warrants further exploration.