Health information on the internet : researching information seekers and practices in a mediated health context
This thesis explores the use of the Internet as a search tool for health information, examining how information practices are inscribed within, and what the implications are for, individuals' everyday experience of health. It does not solely examine the Internet, but also embraces the mediated context of health that promotes information practices. The study examines the search for health-related information from the perspective of information seekers and within the informational environment of individuals' everyday life that shapes an 'informed health' experience. The study draws on sociological theories that discuss contemporary health experience and the related issues of risks, information and agency. It is based on a web-based questionnaire and qualitative email and face-to-face interviews with Internet users. After a descriptive analysis of health information seekers' profiles and their online practices, three interpretive contexts - 'informed patient', 'informed self' and 'healthy self' - explore the everyday dimension and meanings of health information seeking. Four case studies of online health information seekers are next developed, deepening the investigation of the significance of being informed about one's own health. The thesis also reflects on the use of email as an interview method and on its implications for the online research relationship. The thesis demonstrates how information seeking may be part of a 'health role' indicating individuals' responsibility for maintaining and controlling their own good health by means of information. It outlines how information seeking may be the source of uncertainties and produce resistance from information seekers who may deliberately ignore information or construct alternative health projects through information selection. The study discusses the implications for the doctor-patient relationship of seeking health information and demonstrates how using the Internet for health information generates an attitude of suspicion in laypersons who must redefine the trust they place in sources of information, including in medical professionals.