Impact of web searching and social feedback on consumer decision making

a prospective online experiment

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

34 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Background: The World Wide Web has increasingly become an important source of information in health care consumer decision making. However, little is known about whether searching online resources actually improves consumers' understanding of health issues. Objectives: The aim was to study whether searching on the World Wide Web improves consumers' accuracy in answering health questions and whether consumers' understanding of health issues is subject to further change under social feedback. Methods: This was a pre/post prospective online study. A convenience sample of 227 undergraduate students was recruited from the population of the University of New South Wales. Subjects used a search engine that retrieved online documents from PubMed, MedlinePlus, and HealthInsite and answered a set of six questions (before and after use of the search engine) designed for health care consumers. They were then presented with feedback consisting of a summary of the post-search answers provided by previous subjects for the same questions and were asked to answer the questions again. Results: There was an improvement in the percentage of correct answers after searching (pre-search 61.2% vs post-search 82.0%, P <.001) and after feedback with other subjects' answers (pre-feedback 82.0% vs post-feedback 85.3%, P =.051). The proportion of subjects with highly confident correct answers (ie, confident or very confident) and the proportion with highly confident incorrect answers significantly increased after searching (correct pre-search 61.6% vs correct post-search 95.5%, P <.001; incorrect pre-search 55.3% vs incorrect post-search 82.0%, P <.001). Subjects who were not as confident in their post-search answers were 28.5% more likely than those who were confident or very confident to change their answer after feedback with other subjects' post-search answers (χ2 1= 66.65, P <.001). Conclusions: Searching across quality health information sources on the Web can improve consumers' accuracy in answering health questions. However, a consumer's confidence in an answer is not a good indicator of the answer being correct. Consumers who are not confident in their answers after searching are more likely to be influenced to change their views when provided with feedback from other consumers.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Volume10
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes

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