• 4Sep

    US study explores behaviour and characteristics of active online health consumers

    As health information becomes more consumer-centred through web-based technologies, it has become important to understand more about the individuals who are engaged in online health information activities.

    A US study, published in the Health Expectations Journal, has explored the potential role of ‘health e-mavens’, individuals with a general interest in a topic area who actively participate in health information exchanges online and through social media. They describe this group as influencers, who enjoy engaging in information exchanges across different products and are driven by a sense of pleasure or obligation to share information with others.

    The researchers argue that in health communication research, there is a general lack of attention to interpersonal influences in disseminating information and influence. The study seeks to increase understanding of active users of online health information via the health e-maven concept through:

    • To establish the factor structure of the health e-maven construct in order to empirically identify health e-mavens.
    • To assess the reliability and validity of the health e-maven construct.
    • To determine what factors, including socio-demographic variables, health-related factors and use of technology, are associated with becoming a health e-maven.

    The study was conducted via a secondary analysis of nationally representative data from the 2010 Health Tracking Survey.

    Analyses of the data identified that health e-mavens are individuals who can be identified and characterized by both information seeking and sharing behaviours. Health information acquisition consisted of two specific activities, health information tracking and consulting. Health information transmission comprised information sharing and online posting activities.

    The researchers identified several factors associated with health e-mavenism. Individuals who were female or had a higher education level were more likely to be health e-mavens; racial minorities were less likely to engage health information acquisition and transmission activities.

    Both health status and health insurance were positive predictors of health e-mavenism, suggesting that individuals with more health problems and more health insurance plans were more likely to become active users of online information.

    As health e-mavenism is a channel-specific concept, frequency of Internet use was also a positive predictor.

    The researchers conclude that health e-maven is a promising concept for health communication research and practice, with potential to become a productive concept at the crossroads between interpersonal communication, health campaign research, Internet research and social network analysis.

    The full study can be read here.

    Sun, Y., Liu, M. and Krakow, M. (2015), Health e-mavens: identifying active online health information users. Health Expectations. doi: 10.1111/hex.12398