Health Information Ties: Preliminary Findings on the Health Information Seeking Behaviour of an African-American Community

Article Summary for Health Information Ties: Preliminary Findings on the Health Information Seeking Behaviour of an African-American Community

by Allison Murphy, Marcia Seaton-Martin, Randi Brown for SJSU INFO 275(10)


This article focuses on a study of the health and information seeking behavior of African Americans. The study, which was published in 2007 in the journal Information Research, used Granovetter’s “strength of weak ties” theory as the basis for research. To conduct the survey, 200 random citizens of the Near East Side of Buffalo, New York, were asked specific questions via phone interviews.

The results of the survey showed that most African Americans relied on health professionals for information, rather than using an Internet search or website. The majority of those surveyed looked for information for themselves, but 22.2% looked for information for other family members or friends. The article concluded that health professionals are very important to underserved populations.

Core Research Questions

One of the core research questions is whether Granovetter’s strength of weak ties theory can be applied to this survey and information. Sociologist Mark Granovetter defines strength of weak ties as “a combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confiding) and the reciprocal services that characterize the tie. The stronger the tie between individuals is an indication that they are part of the same social network” (Morey, 2007). Granovetter believes that if individuals have a close relationship, they will be part of the same social group.

Granovetter also attests that if individuals do not have a strong relationship between themselves, they will be “more useful sources for obtaining information and other resources” (Morey, 2007). This article mentions that library and information sources have not previously studied the health information seeking behaviors of minority groups. The study is one of the first to raise the question of how a specific African American population looks for information regarding health and wellness.

Methods Used

Information gathering for this study was completed via a telephone survey. The researcher purchased a directory of random listed household telephone numbers that corresponded to the target census area of Buffalo’s Near East Side. Using the MS Excel Rand() function, arbitrary telephone number pools were selected three times until at least 200 interviews were completed.

The telephone questionnaire used original questions along with others from “The online health care revolution” and “The strength of Internet ties’” (as quoted in Morey, 2007) that investigated the health seeking behavior of African Americans and the relationship closeness of persons from which they seek medical information or help. The survey was designed using the following type questions:

1. Which members of their social networks do participants interact with the most when seeking consumer health information? How do the participants define the ‘closeness’ of this relationship?
2. Where do participants seek and obtain consumer health information?
3. Which age group is more likely to seek and obtain consumer health information?
4. Which sex is more likely to seek and obtain consumer health information?
5. Did the participant look for consumer health information for himself or herself or someone else? (Morey, 2007)

The survey was tested and revised before implementation. To eliminate bias and ensure a diverse gender and age response demographic, the survey introduction was modified when half of the surveys were completed. Nine hundred forty telephone numbers were called to complete 216 surveys.

Findings and Conclusions

Two hundred sixteen African American men and women between the ages of 18-74 were surveyed who searched for medical information in the past six months. Most often, respondents looked for information from health care workers (45.3%), the Internet (14.5%), or other sources (9.8%). Older participants were more likely to look for additional information, but younger partakers were more likely to use the Internet.

A major source of health information seeking was from health care professionals, despite a predominantly weak relational tie. Family and friends with whom those surveyed had strong ties were also important sources of health information for themselves and as sources for proxy information gathering, even though the value of the information may be questionable. Respondents did not replace traditional sources of information gathering, health care workers or family ties, with the Internet.

Further Questions

After reading this article on health information seeking behavior, there are several questions that come to mind.

1. Is seeking information from the youngest male or female over 18 truly going to give an accurate representation on health information seeking behavior?

Many students just out of high school are in great shape and health, therefore they are less likely to have health issues.

2. Why turn to family members for health information?

There has been a history of African Americans being treated differently in hospitals, not being given medicine for pain, or being given minimal drug doses. Economics could also play a role. Sometimes the elderly are more comfortable with their family members.

3. Can results of a survey from a small number of people give an accurate representation of health information seeking behavior?

The answer is no. According to the 2010 quick facts census, there was a population of 261,325 people in Buffalo, and 38.6% of that group were African Americans living alone, which is approximately 100,000 persons (United States Census Bureau, 2015). If it was assumed that the 2007 census had similar demographics, then the surveyed African American population represented less than one percent of the targeted demographic.

4. What could contribute to such a percentage gap with those who used the Internet versus those who sought out a health care professional?

The article points out that this is an underserved area of Buffalo, so one could assume that respondents had no access to the Internet at home, did not know how to use the Internet, or did not have transportation to a library.

For future research, as shown by the numbers above, there should be more people included in the survey. It may cost more, but the results or findings would be more accurately represented.


Morey, O. (2007). Health information ties: preliminary findings on the health information seeking behaviour of an African-American community. Information Research, 12(2). Retrieved from

United States Census Bureau. (2015 September 3). Buffalo (city), New York. Retrieved from