Many consumer general health information Web sites now provide interactive services such as “e‐mail the doctor” and online discussion boards. There has been little research into how consumers are using these services, especially general health discussion boards. In this exploratory study, features of health e‐mails such as enquiry subjects were investigated using content analysis. The material studied was 100 unsolicited e‐mails and 100 discussion messages sent between 2000 and 2003 by users of the UK‐based Web site MedicDirect. Issues emerging from the analysis included the high proportion of unsuitable e‐mails (up to 62 per cent) and the failure of nearly one‐third of users to find the information they sought on the Web site. Over one‐third of e‐mail senders misspelled key search terms. Readability tools could not be applied to e‐mails to assess consumer literacy, despite a suspected mismatch between Web page readability and consumer comprehension. There is ample scope for further research on these topics.
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