Online Health Information Seeking Behavior: A Systematic Review

30 December, 2021

This systematic review is highly relevant to HIFA and very welcome. Citation, abstract, selected extracts and a comment from me below.

CITATION: Healthcare (Basel). 2021 Dec 16. pii: 1740. Epub ahead of print]9(12)

Online Health Information Seeking Behavior: A Systematic Review.

Xiaoyun Jia, Yan Pang, and Liangni Sally Liu



ABSTRACT: The last five years have seen a leap in the development of information technology and social media. Seeking health information online has become popular. It has been widely accepted that online health information seeking behavior has a positive impact on health information consumers. Due to its importance, online health information seeking behavior has been investigated from different aspects. However, there is lacking a systematic review that can integrate the findings of the most recent research work in online health information seeking, and provide guidance to governments, health organizations, and social media platforms on how to support and promote this seeking behavior, and improve the services of online health information access and provision. We therefore conduct this systematic review. The Google Scholar database was searched for existing research on online health information seeking behavior between 2016 and 2021 to obtain the most recent findings. Within the 97 papers searched, 20 met our inclusion criteria. Through a systematic review, this paper identifies general behavioral patterns, and influencing factors such as age, gender, income, employment status, literacy (or education) level, country of origin and places of residence, and caregiving role. Facilitators (i.e., the existence of online communities, the privacy feature, real-time interaction, and archived health information format), and barriers (i.e., low health literacy, limited accessibility and information retrieval skills, low reliable, deficient and elusive health information, platform censorship, and lack of misinformation checks) to online health information seeking behavior are also discovered.


'Overall, according to the reviewed literature, a large majority of the health information consumers thought online health information was important, and online HISB had a positive influence on their health [4,5]. Seventy-five percent of the health information consumers believed the obtained online health information had either a minor or major impact on them (or their families and friends) in their health treatment decision making,

'over 60% of the health information consumers sought at least on a weekly basis [4]. In particular, more than a quarter of the health information consumers even searched online health information several times a day

'83% of the health information consumers searched health information using a general search engine, such as Google and Yahoo, while 15% of the online seekers tended to search on specific health information websites

'As for the criteria for health websites, what the health information consumers valued the most included (i) accuracy, (ii) currency of information, and (iii) ease of understanding [4]'

'Suggestions to Platforms, Health Organizations, and Governments... (i) design suggestions to online social media platforms, (ii) suggestions to health-related workers and professionals, and (iii) suggestions to relevant health organizations and governments.'

COMMENT (NPW): The scope of the review is very broad. Perhaps what is needed now is more granular research on different types of healthcare information. Also, the above review notes that consumers value 'accuracy' but, as we know, what consumers believe to be accurate does not correlate well with what is actually accurate. More research is needed to identify ways to help the general public to differentiate between reliable information and misinformation.

Best wishes, Neil

Neil Pakenham-Walsh, HIFA Coordinator,