Designing health websites based on users' web-based information-seeking behaviors: A mixed-method observational study

Patrick Cheong Iao Pang, Shanton Chang, Karin Verspoor, Jon Pearce

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Laypeople increasingly use the Internet as a source of health information, but finding and discovering the right information remains problematic. These issues are partially due to the mismatch between the design of consumer health websites and the needs of health information seekers, particularly the lack of support for "exploring" health information. Objective: The aim of this research was to create a design for consumer health websites by supporting different health information-seeking behaviors. We created a website called Better Health Explorer with the new design. Through the evaluation of this new design, we derive design implications for future implementations. Methods: Better Health Explorer was designed using a user-centered approach. The design was implemented and assessed through a laboratory-based observational study. Participants tried to use Better Health Explorer and another live health website. Both websites contained the same content. A mixed-method approach was adopted to analyze multiple types of data collected in the experiment, including screen recordings, activity logs, Web browsing histories, and audiotaped interviews. Results: Overall, 31 participants took part in the observational study. Our new design showed a positive result for improving the experience of health information seeking, by providing a wide range of information and an engaging environment. The results showed better knowledge acquisition, a higher number of page reads, and more query reformulations in both focused and exploratory search tasks. In addition, participants spent more time to discover health information with our design in exploratory search tasks, indicating higher engagement with the website. Finally, we identify 4 design considerations for designing consumer health websites and health information-seeking apps: (1) providing a dynamic information scope; (2) supporting serendipity; (3) considering trust implications; and (4) enhancing interactivity. Conclusions: Better Health Explorer provides strong support for the heterogeneous and shifting behaviors of health information seekers and eases the health information-seeking process. Our findings show the importance of understanding different health information-seeking behaviors and highlight the implications for designers of consumer health websites and health information-seeking apps.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere145
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Consumer health information
  • Exploratory behavior
  • Hypermedia
  • Public health informatics


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