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

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

  1. The method the researchers used to obtain information was through telephone calls to home land line telephones. There are an increasingly high number of people that no longer use home phones in lieu of cell phones, as well as many people with ‘unlisted’ home telephone numbers.

    Technology has evolved and mobile devices are used more in comparison to land lines; therefore, a study reaching out to this group of mobile users would be more sufficient. Also, the study should have used the internet as a resource of proving the argument “African Americans depend on health professionals for information opposed to utilizing internet search or website.”

    The researchers could perhaps use a blended method of using home telephones along with email surveys or in-person surveys in order to capture a more diverse age demographic.Or, perhaps another method, such as email or other online surveying or in-person surveying would result in a more realistic representation.

    1. This is a thorough and clear synopsis with concise observations and interesting questions. Your group makes great points about the possible reasons for percentage gaps among the target community’s internet use and seeking out of healthcare professionals. The low household income of the survey’s participants in the poor neighborhood of Buffalo and their close proximity to health care facilities and educational institutions supports that respondents may have lacked access to the Internet and sought information outside the home environment. Also, as you point out, the youngest respondents would generally be healthier and less likely to need medical help.
      We agree with your group that the sample size, at less than 1% of the targeted demographic in the Buffalo area, is too small to generalize to the larger population. Additionally, because this study only surveyed African Americans, it is misleading of the study’s authors to suggest that the results only apply to under-served populations. In other words, perhaps white respondents would have answered similarly. A future study might include both populations so that, by comparing results, we might see differences that only apply to under-served populations.
      We also think that a further analysis of the results could include not only looking at the impact of seeking health information from family and friends, and the impact of these strong tie relationships, but also focusing on the characteristics of individuals looking for health information online compared to in person to show if age, health status, health insurance, and the purpose for seeking information were factors of the final results.

  2. It’s refreshing to hear that only 14.5% use the internet for healthcare questions. This would be the least reliable place for information since the user could be missing an important health diagnosis. Since 45.3% turn to healthcare professionals and 9.8% use other resources, I wonder what the other 30.4% are doing?

  3. Our group came up with the following unanswered questions after reading the article:

    1. What constitutes “health information”?

    2. Are the answers given from doctors/medical staff helpful?

    3. What studies are being done for those without access to telephones?

    We expanded the last question by asking what other research methods/mediums may be better to survey the population. Given that this is a poorer part of the state, it’s important to keep these mediums in mind. A question that could arise from this would be “Are telephones more affordable than the Internet?” A chapter in our course textbook discusses how Latino individuals have cell phones because it is their avenue to the Internet.

    A factor that could be included for this cultural group is the element of trust. How likely would African Americans/Blacks be willing to share information? Does it matter when it’s a phone survey?

    To expand on their response to their question we would pose to explore to what extent health or maintaining health is a value, and whether this is a value across cultures as well. Individuals who are older may have more health concerns, but they may also have learned to seek information at the time it is needed.

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