Online Health Information and female users; Needs, Usages and Effects

Shabana Asgher, Dr. Noshina Saleem


The use of internet for health information is on increase particularly among females. Although as a determinant of the effectiveness of health information, the role of “Information seeking” is recognized as much important as the “content” of the source. Little research, however, has investigated online health information (OHI) seeking behavior among female users. Present study attempts to contribute in bridging this gap. Due to the exploratory nature of the study, focus group was found most appropriate tool .Eight focus groups were conducted from October 2019 to March 2020, bracketing a total of 70 females, who reported to use online sources for their personal health or the health-related issues faced by their dear ones. The participants were asked to converse about the needs for which they  seek online health information, the techniques they use to search and select a source , the extent to which they found the acquired information as useful and the effects(if any),they had experienced. Discussions were converted into transcripts and thematic analysis was performed. Significant information patterns were identified and categorized. The findings identified Internet as to be the initial and most frequently used source of information, and guidance regarding health related issues among female users.  In most of the cases, the use was need- oriented and participants reported to practice similar searching patterns i.e. use of key words and giving preference to preliminary results. Website was reported to be the most frequently visited and most trusted source of OHI followed by YouTube ,particularly among middle age users whereas young age users consult diverse sources including websites, you tube, instagram and blogs. However, in making health related decisions, the role of online health sources was found that of a supplementary source. The information collected was used either to get an idea or to self-diagnose a health issue based on symptoms. Many reported to use online sources in order to seek reassurance after consulting medical professionals. Socio-demographics and personality traits were found significant determinants of the decisions related to content selection and source credibility. Both positive and negative effects of this convenient and easily accessible source of health information were reported. Young participants were found to have Cyberchondria due to extensive use of OHI. OHI is mainly used by females to gratify informational needs and to get immediate relief from anxiety. Their health related decisions, however, are still physician and medical professionals dependent.

Full Text:



Atkinson, N.L., Saperstein, S.L., &Pleis, J. (2009). Using the Internet for Health-Related

Activities: Findings From a NationalProbabilitySample. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 11(1), e4.

Arora, N. K., Johnson, P. Gustafson, D. H., McTavish, F., Hawkins, R. P. &Pingree, S. (May,

. Barriers to information access, perceived health competence, and psychosocial health outcomes: test of a mediation model in a breast cancer sample. Patient Education and Counseling, 47(1), 37-46.

Asmundson, G. J. G. & Taylor, S. (2005).It's Not All in Your Head: How Worrying about Your

Health Could be Making You Sick - and What You Can Do about It Hardcover. (1sted.). Guilford press. ISBN-10:1593851464. ISBN-13:978-1593851460

Baker, L., Wagner, T. H., Singer, S. &Bundorf, M. K. (2003). Use of the Internet and E-mail for

Health Care Information: Results From a National Survey. JAMA, 289(18), 2400–2406.

Bernhardt, J. M. &Felter, E. M. (2004). Online pediatric information seeking among mothers of

young children: results from a qualitative study using focus groups. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 6(1). Atlanta GA.

Bidmon, S. &Terlutter, R. (2015). Gender Differences in Searching for Health Information on

the Internet and the Virtual Patient-Physician Relationship in Germany: Exploratory Results on How Men and Women Differ and Why.J Med Internet Res, 17(6).

Brashers, D. E., Goldsmith, D. J. & Hsieh, E. (2006). Information Seeking and Avoiding in

Health Contexts. Human Communication Research, 28(2). 258-271.

Calabretta, M. R.&Greisen, E. W. (2002). Representations of celestial coordinates in FITS.

Astronomy and Astrophysics, 395, 1077-1122.

Castrén, J., Huttunen, T. &Kunttu, K. (2008). Users and non-users of web-based health advice

service among Finnish university students – chronic conditions and self-reported health status (a cross-sectional study). BMC Med Inform DecisMak, 8(8).

Chu, J. T., Wang, M. P., Shen, C., Viswanath, K., Lam, T. H. & Chan, S. S. C. (2017). How,

When and Why People Seek Health Information Online: Qualitative Study in Hong

Kong. Interact J Med Res, 6(2). PMCID: PMC5743920. PMID: 29233802

Cline, R. J. W. & Haynes, K. M. (2001). Consumer health information seeking on the Internet:

the state of the art.Health Education Research, 16(6), 671–692.

Corrarino, J. E. (2013). Health Literacy and Women's Health: Challenges and Opportunities.

Journal of Midwifery and Women Health, 58(3), 257-264.

Eysenbach, G. (2009). Infodemiology and Infoveillance: Framework for an Emerging Set of

Public Health Informatics Methods to Analyze Search, Communication and Publication Behavior on the Internet. JMIR Publication, 11(1).

Fox, S., Rainie, L., & Horrigan, J. (2006). The Online Health Care Revolution: How the Web Helps Americans Take Better Care of Themselves. Washington, DC: Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Han, J. Y., Wise, M., Kim, E., Pingree, R., Hawkins, R. P., Pingree, S., McTavish, F. &

Gustafson, D. H. (2010).Factors Associated with Use of Interactive Cancer Communication System: An Application of the Comprehensive Model of Information Seeking.Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 15(3), 367–388.

Hesse, B. W., Nelson, D. E., Kreps, G. L., Croyle, R. T., Arora, N. K., Rimer, B. K. &

Viswanath, K.(2005). Trust and Sources of Health Information: The Impact of the Internet and Its Implications for Health Care Providers: Findings From the First Health Information National Trends Survey. Arch Intern Med, 165(22), 2618–2624.

Johnson, J.D., &Meischke, H. (1991). Cancer information: Women’s source and content

preferences. Journal of Health Care Marketing, 11(1), 37–44.

Johnson, J. D., &Meischke, H. (1993). A comprehensive model of cancer-related information

seeking applied to magazines. Human Communication Research, 19, 343–367.

Kealey, E.& Berkman, C.S. (2010). The relationship between health information sources and

mental models of cancer: Findings from the 2005 Health Information National Trends Survey. Journal of Health Communication, 15(Suppl 3), 236–251.

Kim, P., Eng, T. R., Deering, M. J. &Maxfield, A. (1999). Published criteria for evaluating

health related web sites: review. The bmj, 318(647).

Killen, J. D., Robinson, T. N., Telch, M. J., Saylor, K. E., Maron, D. J., Rich, T. & Bryson, S.

(1989). The Stanford Adolescent Heart Health Program. Health education quarterly, 16(2), 263-83.

Lupton, D. (2016). The use and value of digital media for information about pregnancy and early

motherhood: a focus group study, BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 16(1711).

Möller, J. C. &Oertel, W. H. (2008). Single-question screen for restless legs syndrome. Nat Clin

PractNeurol, 4(3), 132-3. PMID: 18253101.

Navarro, F. H.& Wilkins, S. T. (2001). A new perspective on consumer health Web use:

"valuegraphic" profiles of health information seekers. Managed care quarterly. 9, 35-43.

Norman, C. D. &Skinner, H. A. (2006). eHEALS: The eHealth Literacy Scale.

J Med Internet Res, 8(4). PMID: 17213046

PMCID: PMC1794004

Peterson, M. W. &Fretz, P. C. (2003). Patient use of the internet for information in a lung cancer

clinic. Chest, 123(2), 452-7. PMID: 12576365.

Raupach, J. C. A. & Hiller, J. E. (2002). Information and support for women following the

primary treatment of breast cancer. Health Expectations, 5(4). 289-301.doi:

Rice, R. E. (2006). Influences, usage, and outcomes of Internet health information searching:

Multivariate results from the Pew surveys. International Journal of Medical Informatics, 75(1), 8-28.

Rowley, J., Johnson, F. &Sbaffi, L. (2015). Students’ trust judgements in online health

information seeking. Health Informatics Journal, 21(4), 316-327.

Shen, C., Wang, M. P., Chu, J. T., Wan, A., Viswanath, K., Chan, S. S. C. & Lam, T. H. (2017).

Health App Possession Among Smartphone or Tablet Owners in Hong Kong: Population-Based Survey. JMIR MhealthUhealth, 5(6). PMID: 28583905. PMCID: 5476868

Smith, R. P., Devine, P., Jonesa, H., DeNittis, A., Whittington, R. &Metz, J. M. (2003). Science

Direct, 62(2), 273-277.

Stefan,Ek&Heinstrom.J.(2011). Monitoring or avoiding health information –the relation to inner inclination and health status.Health information and libraries journal DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-1842.2011.00947.x

Susannah, F.&Rainie, L. (2000). The Online Health Care Revolution: How the Web Helps

Americans Take Better Care of Themselves.PEW Research Center.

Tonsaker, T., Bartlett, G. &Trpkov, C. (2014). Health information on the Internet: gold mine or

minefield?. Can Fam Physician,60(5),407-8.

Warner, D. &Procaccino, J. D. (2004). Toward wellness: Women seeking health information.

Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 55(8).

Ybarra, M. L. &Suman, M. (2006). Help seeking behavior and the Internet: a national survey.

Int J Med InformI,75(1), 29-41. PMID: 16129659.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Journal of Media & Communication byILMA Universityis licensed under aCreative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at

Copyright ILMA University 2020. All right reserved.

The articles that are published in the journals are distributed under CC BY NC SA license. Users can distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon our articles, even non-commercially, as long as they are credited for the original creation. License Creative Commons.