Background: The Internet has increasingly become a popular source of health information by connecting individuals with health content, experts, and support. More and more, individuals turn to social media and Internet sites to share health information and experiences. Although online health information seeking occurs worldwide, limited empirical studies exist examining cross-cultural differences in perceptions about user-generated, experience-based information compared to expertise-based information sources. Objective: To investigate if cultural variations exist in patterns of online health information seeking, specifically in perceptions of online health information sources. It was hypothesized that Koreans and Hongkongers, compared to Americans, would be more likely to trust and use experience-based knowledge shared in social Internet sites, such as social media and online support groups. Conversely, Americans, compared to Koreans and Hongkongers, would value expertise-based knowledge prepared and approved by doctors or professional health providers more. Methods: Survey questionnaires were developed in English first and then translated into Korean and Chinese. The back-translation method ensured the standardization of questions. Surveys were administered using a standardized recruitment strategy and data collection methods. Results: A total of 826 participants living in metropolitan areas from the United States (n=301), Korea (n=179), and Hong Kong (n=337) participated in the study. We found significant cultural differences in information processing preferences for online health information. A planned contrast test revealed that Koreans and Hongkongers showed more trust in experience-based health information sources (blogs: t451.50=11.21, P<.001; online support group: t455.71=9.30, P<.001; social networking sites [SNS]: t466.75=11.36, P<.001) and also reported using blogs (t515.31=6.67, P<.001) and SNS (t529.22=4.51, P<.001) more frequently than Americans. Americans showed a stronger preference for using expertise-based information sources (eg, WebMD and CDC) compared to Koreans and Hongkongers (t360.02=3.01, P=.003). Trust in expertise-based information sources was universal, demonstrating no cultural differences (Brown-Forsythe F2,654=1.82, P=.16). Culture also contributed significantly to differences in searching information on behalf of family members (t480.38=5.99, P<.001) as well as to the goals of information searching. Conclusions: This research found significant cultural differences in information processing preferences for online health information. Further discussion is included regarding effective communication strategies in providing quality health information.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Health Informatics