Consumer health information

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  • Updated.jpg This entry is out of date, and will not be updated, July 2018


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

Consumer health information is tailored and directed at general audiences and consumers, rather than at individual patients. Consumer health information (CHI) refers to information that is important to those who consult it without mediation (or interpretation) by health professionals (or librarians). This information is found in print and digital formats, and is available where other general information is found such as via the Internet and at local public libraries.

The purpose of CHI is to provide clear information and facts to consumers about their health. Where patient education is intended to explain exams, tests and treatments, CHI aims to raise overall awareness of health and wellness issues. Consumer health information is often provided without much (or any) interpretation by health providers (or librarians, for that matter); however, this may be changing somewhat due to an increased emphasis on shared decision-making in medicine. In most countries, consumers are directed to MedlinePlus at the US National Library of Medicine, which is one of the few authoritative sites in the area. 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

Health information seeking activity by consumers

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

A 2015 Pew Research Center Study reveals that "73% of all those ages 16 and over say libraries contribute to people finding the health information they need. 42% of those who have gone online at a library using its computers, internet connections or Wi-Fi have done so for health-related searches." 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 Patient's Bill of Rights - A Comparative Overview

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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