Constructing “sense” from evolving health information: A qualitative investigation of information seeking and sense making across sources


  • Shelagh K. Genuis

    1. Centre for Health Promotion Studies, School of Public Health, University of Alberta
    2. 3-094 Edmonton Clinic Health Academy (ECHA), 11405 87 Avenue, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada
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Focusing on information behavior in a context where medical evidence is explicitly evolving (management of the menopause transition), this investigation explored how women interact with and make sense of uncertain health information mediated by formal and informal sources. Based on interviews with 28 information seekers and 12 health professionals (HPs), findings demonstrate that participants accessed and valued a wide range of information sources, moved fluidly between formal and informal sources, and trust was strengthened through interaction and referral between sources. Participants were motivated to seek information to prepare for formal encounters with HPs, evaluate and/or supplement information already gathered, establish that they were “normal,” understand and address the physical embodiment of their experiences, and prepare for future information needs. Findings revealed four strategies used to construct sense from health information mediated by the many information sources encountered and accessed on an everyday basis: women assumed analytic and experiential “postures”; they valued social contexts for learning and knowledge construction; information consistency was used as a heuristic representing accuracy and credibility; and an important feature of sense making was source complementarity. Implications for health information literacy and patient education are discussed.