Much has been written about the importance of the internet and other media as sources for medical information. Research based on self-reported media use has established that deliberate information seeking from the media, including the internet, has been associated with increased engagement in preventive behaviors relating to diet and physical activity, more positive patient-clinician interactions, and has also assisted individuals in coping with uncertainty.
On the other hand, another line of research has raised concerns about potentially negative effects of the current information environment – that is, for many people, having access to so much information about health is detrimental and leads to feelings of being overwhelmed and inaction.
Yet an important limitation of most previous studies in this area is that they rely on self-reports of both information seeking and behavioral or psychosocial outcomes. Further, most studies rely on generalized, non-time bound health information seeking (i.e., “Have you ever looked for information about [a topic] from [a source]”), or ask about information seeking within a specific timeframe but do not examine the content of the information or recommendation. Thus, the next frontier in this line of research is one that links objective measures of information seeking – both sources and content – with clinical and psychosocial outcomes to understand how people use the information they seek and find from nontraditional sources.
Although Buoy’s primary aim is to contribute to improved patient care, an important contribution of such a tool may be related to reducing the negative effects of the current overwhelming health information environment. A tool like Buoy has the potential to cut through the clutter of too much and contradictory information to provide personalized, science-based recommendations. The overarching aim of this project is to understand how people use information they seek and find from Buoy.
We surveyed a random sample of Buoy users immediately following the completion of their Buoy session to assess their reason for utilizing Buoy, their experiences with the tool and how it relates to other information they may have found online or through other non-clinical sources, their intentions to comply with Buoy recommendations, their confidence in the Buoy diagnosis, and treatment recommendations. We also assessed intentions to share the information and treatment advice with family members and clinicians, and perceptions of information overload, fatalism, uncertainty management, and satisfaction with patient-clinician interaction. We followed up with respondents 2 weeks after the initial survey to as the same questions as well as new questions to examine what they did following their online consult with Buoy and assess their information-seeking efficacy.
A benefit of the collaborative approach is the potential to overcome the self-report limitations of prior studies. Thus, we obtained from Buoy the paths individuals took and Buoy’s final recommendation. Once we finish analyzing the data, we will be able to match the initial reason for the consult to the reason reported in the survey, and also assess the extent to which respondents understood the recommendation and acted upon it.
Stay tuned for the results and implications of this research!