The following is part of a report on the knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of the general public on seasonal, avian, and pandemic flu. This report is based on 24 interviews and 12 focus groups held across the united states by students of University of North Texas. I personally conducted 2 interviews and 1 focus group for this project.
My particular portion of the report featured below focuses on the research question:
What are the reasons why and ways in which the general population seeks out health information regarding seasonal, avian, and a possible pandemic flu, and which sources are considered most trusted?
In order to determine why and how people sought information concerning the flu, we asked participants whether or not they sought information and how they did so for each flu type. We then probed further by asking why or why not. The percentage of responses decreased from 100% for seasonal flu to 92% for bird flu to 75% for pandemic flu. In those cases where people did not respond, it was because they had absolutely no knowledge of the flu in question and thus were not questioned further, or because they failed to respond with a direct answer due to their lack of knowledge.
Reasons why respondents chose to seek out information on all three flus was not clear, as no single pattern emerged from the data collected. The responses we received ranged from family members being sick, causing participants to seek out information to self-born curiosity to information gained through participants’ work environments. The most common reasons why people did not seek out information was either lack of concern, particularly on seasonal flu, or not having enough knowledge about the flus, in this case avian and pandemic, to perceive a need to seek out information. However, several participants reported that they were curious after having been interviewed and though they had not previously sought out information, they would do so now.
Respondents who sought out information shared with us the sources they used and those who did not told us what sources they would use while seeking out health-related information in the future. We saw trends across the many ways people had or would seek out information and condensed them down to 5 types: Mass Media (TV, newspapers, radio, magazines), Internet (searching/google, news, medical, government), Medical Professionals (doctors, medical facilities), Textual (pamphlets, fliers, medical books), and Work.
When analyzing these trends we found some interesting numbers. These numbers were measured against all responses given on where people would seek information. In some cases people responded with multiple sources and not everyone who responded to whether or not they would seek information responded to where they had or would seek it. For those seeking information on seasonal flu, 47% look to the Internet, 24% look to the Media, and 14% look to Medical Professionals. For bird flu information, Mass Media and Internet tied at 30%, followed by Medical Professionals, Work, and Textual information all tying at 3%. Pandemic flu ranked highest on use of the Internet at 54% followed by Mass Media, Work and Textual Information at 15%.
Figure 12: Where Do Participants Get Their Information About Influenza?
View Chart Here
When participants were asked what sources they would trust most, they did not always answer with the same places they would seek out information. Those who responded to what sources they would trust sometimes listed more than one source, and not all those who responded to where they would seek out information responded with what sources they would trust.
Of those who responded on sources trusted for flu information, the Internet and Medical Professionals both came in at 36% followed by Mass Media at 16%. For sources trusted on bird flu, Mass Media was highest with 38% followed by the Internet at 33%, and Medical Professionals at 16%. Sources trusted for pandemic flu were the Internet at 38%, Media and Work at 25%, followed by Medical Professional at 13%. Overall, the Internet is the most trusted source followed by medical professionals, and then mass media.
Figure 13: Which Sources of Information Do Participants Trust?
View Chart Here
Though many said they would seek information from the Internet and that they trusted the Internet as a source of information, it usually came with a caveat. Of sites that were mentioned, the most mentioned were news sites, then government sites, followed by internet portals and professional medical journals. The most mentioned news sites were the New York Times, BBC, and CNN. Government sites were the Center for Disease Control (CDC), FDA and World Health Organization. Portal sites included MSN and Yahoo, and the journals mentioned were the American Medial Association and Lancet. Most people mentioned they would search for information as well (instead of or in addition to going to these sites). The only mentioned search engine was Google. Other sites mentioned were Wikipedia, Web-MD, and in a joking sense MySpace and YouTube. Concerning whether or not sites were trust worthy, one person had an interesting response: “If the site has some kind of seal of approval…that makes me feel more comfortable than one that doesn’t.”
Information Needs and Distribution
One of our focus group questions focused on information needs, specifically what information people were looking for when it came to the three flus. A few themes emerged across all of the groups. Participants were concerned with causes, symptoms, cures, length of contagion, prevention techniques and how to control the spread, as well as vaccine information for the three flus. Among those concerning the avian and pandemic flus in particular were the differences between the flu statistics and facts – specifically concerning death rate, infected populations and the percent of people affected, as well as threat level, travel alerts, and community game plans for outbreak, particularly where to go and what to do. Overall, most people want straight information sans the media hype.
Within our focus groups, we also asked what participants thought the best methods of distributing information on the three flus from the local, state, and federal governments. There were a few things that came up in the focus groups that did not come up in the interviews as places people would seek information. Specifically, schools for those with children, insurance benefits information (in one context this was mentioned, the benefit was getting a break on medical expenses for getting a flu shot and/or seeking out health information), mail (though some said they would never read information that came to them this way), billboards, and an alert system similar to the Amber Alert.
Though respondents came up with many ways to distribute the information, they were also quick to come up with barriers, or reasons why it would be difficult to for people in the general population to receive the information. Literacy, language, and money were perhaps the three biggest barriers for anyone having access to information and being in a position to receive information, as well as just being aware of information no matter how it was made available.