Health information seeking behavior (HISB); a study of a developing country.

Author:Gavgani, Vahideh Zarea


Currently, Health Information Seeking Behavior (HISB) is broadly viewed as the ways by which individuals obtain information about health, illness, health promotion and risks to health (Lambert & Loiselle, 2007).

Public health literacy seems to be confusing. People read a lot of promotional material but they do not understand it completely. Background knowledge of individuals is different. There is not enough time to discuss with physicians and pharmacists about all "marginal" questions which can turn out to be very important(Nada & Mirjana). A survey in the United States came to the result that, overall, a physician sees each patient for 13 to 16 minutes (Medscape Physician Compensation Report, 2012). With limited time to ask questions, the more patients are informed about specific medical conditions affecting their health, the smarter the questions they will ask their doctors. And the place that many people go to find answer to their questions and other health information is their local public library (Medical Library Association and the Consumer and Patient Health Information Section (CAPHISIMLA), 1996).

A public library is an organization established, supported and funded by the community, either through local, regional or national government or through some other forms of community organization. It provides access to knowledge, information and works of the imagination through a range of resources and services and is equally available to all members of the community regardless of race, nationality, age, gender, religion, language, disability, economic and employment status and educational attainment. The public library must provide services based on an analysis of the library and information needs of the local community (De Gruyter, 2010).

Public libraries are often the first place where individuals seek consumer health information. Librarians must evaluate, select, organize, and store information as well as provide a range of health information services on a limited budget (Nada &Mirjana).

Linnan and et al (2004) concluded that creating public library/public health partnerships holds much promise for enhancing the ability of community members to access desired health information.

Regardless of the importance of HIBS studies in effectiveness of library services, small number of studies have been done on the information behavior of the citizens of developing countries particularly the rural poor areas (Dutta, 2009).On the other hand, the rate of health literacy is low according to the study which has studied the level of health literacy in five provinces of Iran (Including Qazvin)(Tehrani Banihashemi& et al, 2007).

To offer better health information service in public libraries it is important to know the health information seeking behavior of people Therefore; in this study, health information seeking behavior of public libraries' members was investigated and the impact of some factors such as age, gender, education and job was evaluated.


The purpose of this study was to increase the understanding of the ways that people find health information in Iran as a developing country and also to identify how they evaluate the roles of public libraries in providing their users with health information

The design of the survey is based on the following objectives:

  1. What for/Why do people usually seek health information?

  2. How do people seek and find health information? Are they active or passive information seekers?

  3. What channels and resources do people seek health information from?

  4. What sources do people usually search on the Internet for health information?

  5. Does the public library have a role in the health information seeking behavior of people?

  6. Is there any association between socio-demographic of people (such as age, gender, education, and job) and their health information seeking behavior?

The review of related literature

As medical information becomes increasingly available and individuals take a more active role in managing their personal health, it is essential for scholars to better understand the general public's information-seeking behavior (Rains, 2007).

The PubMed and Web of Science information platforms were searched to access the related researches in the area of people's health information seeking behavior. There was little study to refer to people's health information seeking behavior. Most studies of health information seeking behavior were doing among students or academics or a certain group. Also there was no study to investigate the Iranian people's health information seeking behavior. The studies were done among the people, described in the following.

Bakar (2011) surveyed information seeking behaviors of rural women in Malaysia. A sample of 80 housewives was selected and each was given a questionnaire to fill in. Housewives in this study were all married. The purpose of this study was to identify the women's information needs, determine the information sources used by rural women in a village of the District of Gombak, in the State of Selangor, to determine their information seeking behaviors and identify any access barriers to those sources of information. He concluded that the women depend mostly on mass media such as newspapers, magazines, television and radio for information on health. It is most likely that they choose the popular magazines which have some sections on health information. At least 10 percent recorded the use of Internet for accessing health information and most of the housewives use the relevant websites or homepages to get the needed information. Women also consulted other sources such as family and friends. In other study, women were surveyed that why and how use the public library and information technology, and how they learned to use the technology. This research took place at the Chester County Library in Exton, Pennsylvania, the USA and female library patrons aging 18 years and older participated. The survey consisted of questions about library use, information sought, information seeking behavior, technology used, and how the respondents learned to use the technology. Results suggested that in terms of library use, out of the 184 respondents, 42% came to the library monthly, while 36% visited the library weekly. As for reasons for library use, the most prominent response was to borrow books rather than buying them. The library was also used as a place of solitude, where women could find a place and time for themselves. Ninety eight percent of women who used the Internet used a search engine such as Google or Yahoo to find information. Frequently mentioned topics were medical and travel information, information for their children, and shopping. The Internet was the number one choice for finding health information. The library was the first place to find a good book. Results indicated that although women use libraries to find information, they use the internet more, as libraries were at least third on the list of places women looked for most of the topics inquired about. In particular, results around how female patrons would like training delivered, their lack of understanding of databases, and their use of the library as it reflects their familial role, can all be helpful when planning public library programming (Fidishun, 2007). One of the studies assessed the process of seeking health information (women's health information needs, the search strategies they employed for filling the information need, and the use of the health information found, and their awareness of specific health and medical information resources. A convenience sample was taken of 300 women. Fifty-three percent of the surveys were distributed in person and 47% by mail in the following: public libraries, senior centers, churches ...; Survey results indicated that women are indeed active seekers and respondents generally did make use of the information they located to improve their health behaviors. The fact that the respondents were highly educated and that most visit a public library on a regular basis adds concern to the finding that a high percentage uses a general search engine for their health related Web searches and a high percentage has never heard of the Web sites located. Their study demonstrated the high use of family and friends as a health information seeking method (Warner and Procaccino, 2004). A study was done in a rural, medically under-serviced area of Ontario, Canada, that surveyed of 253 people living in a rural and related to their searching for and using health information. Results stated eighty-two percent of the respondents who had looked for health information did so for themselves and 18% sought information on behalf of someone else. The two sources of health information most frequently consulted were doctors and the internet. Many of those surveyed used the information they found to...

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