Consumer Health Information and Proxy Searching:
A View from the Users of www.nchealthinfo.org (2003-04)
Through webpages, chatrooms, listservs, etc., the Internet enables people to seek information about health concerns on behalf of themselves and other people. Little is known, however, about why and how people use particular online venues and to what effects. We are focusing on these questions by collaborating with researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who maintain www.nchealthinfo.org – a health information resource that provides such services as statewide health provider listings, MEDLINEplus database access, and “Ask a Librarian.”
Completed in Spring 2005, the North Carolina Health Information (NCHI) project comprises an online survey and follow-up telephone interviews with individual and agency users of nchealthinfo.org, along with transaction log analysis, and interviews with site developers. In addition to learning the reasons that people access nchealthinfo.org, how they use it, the barriers they encounter, and their outcomes, we are focusing specifically on the nature of proxy searching, i.e., when people obtain and send information to other people, regardless of whether they were asked beforehand or engage in follow-up. These notions of proxy searching and information sharing have been explored by Sanda Erdelez (University of Missouri) and Kevin Rioux (University of North Carolina at Greensborough), and Melissa Gross (Florida State University).
Anticipated themes for which series data are analyzed include:
- How people express information needs
- People’s motivations for seeking information
- The role of proxy searching
- Why people prefer particular sources when seeking information
- The role of serendipity
- How people use information
- How people devise and use particular strategies when giving information
- The role of information grounds
The results from the NCHI Project and related studies will be integrated with our past findings to derive a general, multi-component framework of information behavior in everyday contexts.
The NCHI Project is part of our IMLS-funded series, “Approaches for Understanding Community Information Use” (2002-04), which is deriving a general, multi-component model of everyday information behavior that builds upon tenets discussed by Harris and Dewdney (1994) and Case (2002). The model is based on findings from several studies—such as the NCHI Project—each targeted at a specific problem or set of questions. Each study’s methodology is additionally tested for how it might be adapted for use by information providers in varied organizations.