Discerning quality health information on the Web: Insights from Korean consumers in the U.S.



The study attempted to identify the consumer health information needs of members of a Korean community in Tallahassee, Florida; how they understood and assessed the quality of health information; and, what cultural values and characteristics influenced their understanding of the quality and how.


In a previous study (Stvilia et al., in press), the researchers surveyed a convenience sample of 108 Koreans. The present study reported on the results of 20 semi-structured in-depth interviews conducted in follow-up to the original survey. In order to identify other quality criteria or perceptions which could not be adequately answered in detail with only the questions of the previous survey, the researchers selected a stratified sample of 20 interviewees ranging in age from 18 to 65 years old. The sample consisted of five participants between the ages 18 and 30, five participants between the ages of 30 and 40, five participants between the ages of 40 and 50, and five participants above the age of 50. In the interviews, the critical incident technique was used, in which participants were asked to recall a specific incident in which they had sought health information, and to describe their judgments of the information found (Flanagan, 1954).


The study found that the respondents most often sought information about disease, diet, and nutrition. Interestingly, information on disease prevention and health safety was least often sought. Also, the majority of respondents searched health information for self-care or on behalf of family members. Only a few of the interviewees searched health information for curiosity or educational purposes. The respondents identified “accuracy” and “reliability” as the most valuable quality characteristics. “Commercial” web pages were seen as negative indicators for reliability, while the information described in detail or displayed reiteratively by more than one website was used as a positive indicator of the information's reliability. In addition to functional quality criteria, some of the respondents also placed high value on non-functional characteristics such as “sympathy.” The study also found that cultural differences might limit use of health information by the respondents. Some of them expressed doubt in American physicians' abilities to give them useful advice on nutrition and diet. Low English language proficiency was a problem for others who instead used Korean websites and social networks to obtain heath information.

Research limitations/implications

The study used a single convenience sample. A random sample selected from multiple communities would increase reliability of the study's findings.


There has been a lack of research on interactions between consumers' cultural characteristics and their understanding of health information quality and health information behavior in general. This study addressed that gap.