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In sickness and in health : a study of health information behaviour and use among Flemish middle-aged and older adults

Martijn Huisman (UGent)
(2021)
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(UGent) , (UGent) and (UGent)
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Abstract
This doctoral dissertation studies health information behaviour and use by middle-aged (50-64 years old) and older adults (65-80 years old) in Flanders, the northern, Dutch-speaking region of Belgium. Through qualitative analyses of 40 in-depth, semi-structured interviews, this thesis examines why (not), how, where, and when middle-aged and older Flemish adults obtain, circulate, and use health information and to what outcomes and effects. Two dominant lines of research are chiefly explored, namely 1) the role of online health information (OHI), and 2) health information sharing behaviour in everyday social interactions. Additionally, in support of these research lines, quantitative data are presented which provide insights into the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and digital media by a larger sample of Flemish middle-aged and older adults. Also under scrutiny, as part of a critical reflection on the interview fieldwork, are the self-presentation efforts by interviewees, that is to say, how they perceive and present themselves as rational and sensible Internet users and OHI seekers by engaging in impression management (IM). All in all, this dissertation illustrates that health information is an important aspect of contemporary life and the media landscape. In a rapidly ageing information and search society in which health in the broadest meaning of the word is highly valued and at the forefront of public and individual consciousness, and in which health and media are intimately linked, health information plays an important role in educating and possibly empowering citizens in matters of health and illness. Yet, while interviewees look up and make use of health information in sickness and in health, it seems that the role of that information remains limited. Respondents hold the doctor in high regard, describing the physician as the first and foremost medical authority, expert, and most trustworthy source of health information. Chapter 6 suggests that such expressions are in part an element of the self-presentation efforts of respondents to portray themselves as responsible Internet users and sensible OHI seekers, who do not take OHI too far and certainly do not diagnose or treat themselves. By way of a theory-driven thematic analysis, the self-presentation efforts of interviewees are scrutinised in Chapter 6 through a theoretical lens which consists of impression management (IM) theory enhanced with the third-person effect (TPE). The study finds that respondents engage in various IM behaviours to maximise positive impressions (proactively demonstrate knowledge, accomplishments, and positive outcomes; compare and distance oneself from others) and minimise negative impressions (respond to critical questions; communicate limitations and offer external explanations). Thus, it is concluded that respondents overall tend to present themselves as rational and sensible Internet users in the context of obtaining and using OHI. Taken together, the findings in this dissertation might be of interest and help to media and communication scholars – particularly health communication researchers and practitioners – as well as information professionals, healthcare practitioners, and policy makers. The findings herein also bare relevance to the global COVID-19 pandemic and ‘infodemic’ which continues as this thesis was completed. The COVID-19 crisis has amply illustrated not only the importance of clear communication between governments, scientists, health professionals, the media, and the public to effectively respond to a pandemic, but also the need to timely disseminate credible and accurate health information and advice to the public. By studying when, where, and how Flemish middle-aged and older adults search for, obtain, circulate, and use health information, this thesis might be of help and contribute to efforts to inform the public on matters of health and illness, in times of crisis or otherwise.
Dit doctoraatsproefschrift bestudeert gezondheidsinformatiegedrag- en gebruik onder volwassenen van middelbare leeftijd (50-64 jaar) en ouderen (65-80 jaar) in Vlaanderen, het noordelijke, Nederlandstalige gebied van België. Door middel van kwalitatieve analyses van 40 semigestructureerde interviews onderzoekt dit proefschrift waarom (niet), hoe, waar, en wanneer Vlaamse volwassenen van middelbare en oudere leeftijd gezondheidsinformatie verkrijgen, verspreiden, en gebruiken, en met welke resultaten en effecten. Twee dominante onderzoekslijnen worden verkend, namelijk 1) de rol van online gezondheidsinformatie (online health information, OHI), en 2) het delen (sharing) van gezondheidsinformatie in alledaagse sociale interacties. Ter ondersteuning van deze onderzoekslijnen worden kwantitatieve data gepresenteerd die inzicht verschaffen in het gebruik van informatie- en communicatietechnologieën (ICT) en digitale media door een grotere steekproef van Vlaamse volwassenen van middelbare en oudere leeftijd. Voorts worden, als onderdeel van een kritische reflectie op het veldwerk (de interviews), de zelfpresentatie-inspanningen van de geïnterviewden onder de loep genomen. Dat wil zeggen, hoe zij zichzelf zien en presenteren als rationele en verstandige internetgebruikers en OHI-zoekers door gebruik te maken van impressie management (impression management, IM). Al met al vindt dit proefschrift dat gezondheidsinformatie een belangrijk aspect is van het hedendaagse leven en het medialandschap. In een snel vergrijzende informatie- en zoekmaatschappij waarin gezondheid in de breedste zin van het woord hoog in het vaandel en het publieke en individuele bewustzijn staat, en waarin gezondheid en media nauw met elkaar verbonden zijn, speelt gezondheidsinformatie een belangrijke rol bij het informeren en het stimuleren van ‘empowerment’ van burgers op het gebied van gezondheid en ziekte. Maar hoewel geïnterviewden gezondheidsinformatie opzoeken en gebruiken, zowel in goede gezondheid als wanneer ze klachten hebben en ziek zijn, is het ook duidelijk dat de rol ervan beperkt blijft, aangezien respondenten de dokter hoog in het vaandel hebben staan en de arts omschrijven als de voornaamste medische autoriteit en de meest betrouwbare bron van gezondheidsinformatie. Hoofdstuk 6 suggereert dat dergelijke uitingen tot op bepaalde hoogte onderdeel zijn van de zelfpresentatie-inspanningen van respondenten om zichzelf neer te zetten als verantwoordelijke Internetgebruikers en verstandige OHI-zoekers, die OHI niet te serieus nemen en zichzelf niet diagnosticeren of behandelen. De zelfpresentatie-inspanningen van de geïnterviewden worden in hoofdstuk 6 onder de loep genomen door een theoretische lens die bestaat uit impression management (IM) theorie uitgebreid met het third-person effect (TPE). Uit de studie blijkt dat respondenten diverse IM-gedragingen vertonen om positieve indrukken te maximaliseren (proactief kennis, prestaties en positieve resultaten aantonen; zichzelf vergelijken met – en afstand nemen van – anderen) en negatieve indrukken te minimaliseren (reageren op kritische vragen; beperkingen communiceren en externe verklaringen bieden). Er wordt geconcludeerd dat respondenten zich over het algemeen presenteren als rationele en verstandige Internetgebruikers in de context van het verkrijgen en gebruiken van OHI. Alles bij elkaar genomen kunnen de bevindingen in dit proefschrift van belang en nuttig zijn voor media- en communicatiewetenschappers – in het bijzonder onderzoekers en praktijkmensen op het gebied van gezondheidscommunicatie – evenals informatieprofessionals, zorgverleners, en beleidmakers. De bevindingen hierin zijn ook relevant te zijn voor de wereldwijde COVID-19 pandemie en ‘infodemie’ die voortduurt terwijl dit proefschrift werd voltooid. De COVID-19-crisis heeft niet alleen ruimschoots het belang aangetoond van duidelijke communicatie tussen regeringen, wetenschappers, gezondheidswerkers, de media en het publiek om effectief te reageren op een pandemie, maar ook de noodzaak om op tijd geloofwaardige en nauwkeurige gezondheidsinformatie en -advies te bieden aan het publiek. Door het onderzoeken van wanneer, waar en hoe Vlaamse volwassenen van middelbare en oudere leeftijd gezondheidsinformatie zoeken, verkrijgen, verspreiden en gebruiken, kan dit proefschrift van dienst zijn en bijdragen aan inspanningen om het publiek te informeren over gezondheid en ziekte, zowel in tijden van crisis als anderszins.
Keywords
Health information, health information behaviour, health communication, middle-aged, older adults, Doctor Google

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Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:

MLA
Huisman, Martijn. In Sickness and in Health : A Study of Health Information Behaviour and Use among Flemish Middle-Aged and Older Adults. Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Politieke en Sociale Wetenschappen, 2021.
APA
Huisman, M. (2021). In sickness and in health : a study of health information behaviour and use among Flemish middle-aged and older adults. Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Politieke en Sociale Wetenschappen, Ghent.
Chicago author-date
Huisman, Martijn. 2021. “In Sickness and in Health : A Study of Health Information Behaviour and Use among Flemish Middle-Aged and Older Adults.” Ghent: Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Politieke en Sociale Wetenschappen.
Chicago author-date (all authors)
Huisman, Martijn. 2021. “In Sickness and in Health : A Study of Health Information Behaviour and Use among Flemish Middle-Aged and Older Adults.” Ghent: Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Politieke en Sociale Wetenschappen.
Vancouver
1.
Huisman M. In sickness and in health : a study of health information behaviour and use among Flemish middle-aged and older adults. [Ghent]: Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Politieke en Sociale Wetenschappen; 2021.
IEEE
[1]
M. Huisman, “In sickness and in health : a study of health information behaviour and use among Flemish middle-aged and older adults,” Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Politieke en Sociale Wetenschappen, Ghent, 2021.
@phdthesis{8686881,
  abstract     = {This doctoral dissertation studies health information behaviour and use by middle-aged (50-64 years old) and older adults (65-80 years old) in Flanders, the northern, Dutch-speaking region of Belgium. Through qualitative analyses of 40 in-depth, semi-structured interviews, this thesis examines why (not), how, where, and when middle-aged and older Flemish adults obtain, circulate, and use health information and to what outcomes and effects. Two dominant lines of research are chiefly explored, namely 1) the role of online health information (OHI), and 2) health information sharing behaviour in everyday social interactions. Additionally, in support of these research lines, quantitative data are presented which provide insights into the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and digital media by a larger sample of Flemish middle-aged and older adults. Also under scrutiny, as part of a critical reflection on the interview fieldwork, are the self-presentation efforts by interviewees, that is to say, how they perceive and present themselves as rational and sensible Internet users and OHI seekers by engaging in impression management (IM).

All in all, this dissertation illustrates that health information is an important aspect of contemporary life and the media landscape. In a rapidly ageing information and search society in which health in the broadest meaning of the word is highly valued and at the forefront of public and individual consciousness, and in which health and media are intimately linked, health information plays an important role in educating and possibly empowering citizens in matters of health and illness. Yet, while interviewees look up and make use of health information in sickness and in health, it seems that the role of that information remains limited. Respondents hold the doctor in high regard, describing the physician as the first and foremost medical authority, expert, and most trustworthy source of health information. Chapter 6 suggests that such expressions are in part an element of the self-presentation efforts of respondents to portray themselves as responsible Internet users and sensible OHI seekers, who do not take OHI too far and certainly do not diagnose or treat themselves. By way of a theory-driven thematic analysis, the self-presentation efforts of interviewees are scrutinised in Chapter 6 through a theoretical lens which consists of impression management (IM) theory enhanced with the third-person effect (TPE). The study finds that respondents engage in various IM behaviours to maximise positive impressions (proactively demonstrate knowledge, accomplishments, and positive outcomes; compare and distance oneself from others) and minimise negative impressions (respond to critical questions; communicate limitations and offer external explanations). Thus, it is concluded that respondents overall tend to present themselves as rational and sensible Internet users in the context of obtaining and using OHI.

Taken together, the findings in this dissertation might be of interest and help to media and communication scholars – particularly health communication researchers and practitioners – as well as information professionals, healthcare practitioners, and policy makers. The findings herein also bare relevance to the global COVID-19 pandemic and ‘infodemic’ which continues as this thesis was completed. The COVID-19 crisis has amply illustrated not only the importance of clear communication between governments, scientists, health professionals, the media, and the public to effectively respond to a pandemic, but also the need to timely disseminate credible and accurate health information and advice to the public. By studying when, where, and how Flemish middle-aged and older adults search for, obtain, circulate, and use health information, this thesis might be of help and contribute to efforts to inform the public on matters of health and illness, in times of crisis or otherwise.},
  author       = {Huisman, Martijn},
  keywords     = {Health information,health information behaviour,health communication,middle-aged,older adults,Doctor Google},
  language     = {eng},
  pages        = {272},
  publisher    = {Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Politieke en Sociale Wetenschappen},
  school       = {Ghent University},
  title        = {In sickness and in health : a study of health information behaviour and use among Flemish middle-aged and older adults},
  year         = {2021},
}