Consumer health information

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Last Update

  • Updated.jpg 29 September 2015


See also Bibliotherapy | EBooks | Finding health information for British Columbians Bc flag.png | Information prescriptions | MedlinePlus (U.S.) | Patient education

Consumer health information is information tailored and directed at a general audience rather than at individual patients. Consumer health information (CHI) refers to information sought by consumers or patients without the need for mediation (or interpretation) by health professionals or librarians. This type of information can be found in a variety of print and media formats, and is made available where other general information is found such as the Internet and local public libraries. CHI's sole purpose is to provide clear, straightforward information and facts for consumers. Whereas patient education is specifically intended to explain exams, tests and treatments to patients and their families, CHI aims to raise awareness of health and wellness issues generally. CHI is provided without much (or any) interpretation by health providers (or librarians, for that matter) but may be changing due to shared decision-making in medicine. Consumers are often directed to MedlinePlus at the US National Library of Medicine, one of the few CHI sites that is well-curated and reliable. Health consumers are distinguished from patients in that they do not necessarily seek information based on a specific complaint, or illness. CHI is often sought to increase one's overall well-being and health literacy skills. CHI may also focus on health promotion and how to navigate the health care system successfully. CHI is found in a number of media including social media.

CHI has grown in the past twenty years, and its growth parallels the rise of the Internet, lobbying groups and their advocates. From its earliest start in hospitals, CHI has grown into an important service component in many hospitals and health libraries, though not all. CHI can comprise opposite ends of the information spectrum from easy-to-read materials on one side to research on the other. Due to the speed of the Internet and media communications, health consumers are confronted daily with a barrage of clinical information and medical evidence. Some well-conducted studies show that the provision of accurate CHI is important in reducing patients' anxieties about treatment and in enhancing their overall compliance and consent. Adequate access to CHI is recognized as a major factor in monitoring one's own health. CHI is found in health food stores, bookstores, physicians' offices and libraries.

Due to its clear, non-technical language, CHI may refer to information about medical tests, procedures or drugs. Some people view CHI as a type of information therapy and seek the valid reliable information on sites such as MedlinePlus (U.S.). See "Answering health & medical reference questions: an introduction for information professionals", ppts and handout

Searching for health information by consumers

See also Evaluating health information | Men's Health Pathfinders | Women's Health Pathfinders

According to the Pew Internet Report, ~80% (93 million Americans) regularly search for one of 16 major health topics. Looking for health information is one of the most popular online activities after checking email (93%) and researching products before buying them (83%). Some of these statistics are duplicated in the Canadian context. Every day in North America, more than six (6) million citizens go online to locate health and medical information; more and more resort to searching online for information when they need advice or a visit to a doctor (according to data provided by the American Medical Association). Only one quarter of health information seekers follow recommended protocols on checking their sources and the timeliness of information they are reading. All consumers should be more vigilant about verifying health information when they search for it online.

The Consumers' Association of Canada states that health consumers have the right to:

  • Be well-informed
  • Access consumer education
  • Participate in decision-making affecting their health
  • Be respected as individuals with a major responsibility for their own health care
  • Equal access to health care regardless of the individual's economic status, sex, age, creed, ethnic origin and location
Taken from Policy on Consumers of Health Care, p11, Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada November 2001

Evidence-based CHI

Social media in consumer health

See Consumer health 2.0 & Health 2.0




The HLWIKI International Advisory makes consumer health information (CHI) available to all -- however, it is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as advice or as a substitute for consulting a doctor. While we strive to keep all content current and correct, we make no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, accuracy, reliability or suitability of information, products, services, or related graphics contained here or on any of the websites listed. Only qualified health providers can provide health care e.g., they will take your health history, examine you, and bring their expertise and experience to bear on evaluating you. Put simply, advice regarding your care should always include your physician and other health providers. Please ask your local health librarian for further assistance.
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