BACKGROUND: Previous studies examining characteristics of Internet health information seekers do not distinguish between those who only seek for themselves, and surrogate seekers who look for health information for family or friends. Identifying the unique characteristics of surrogate seekers would help in developing Internet interventions that better support these information seekers.
OBJECTIVE: To assess differences between self seekers versus those that act also as surrogate seekers.
METHODS: We analyzed data from the cross-sectional Pew Internet and American Life Project November/December 2008 health survey. Our dependent variable was self-report of type of health information seeking (surrogate versus self seeking). Independent variables included demographics, health status, and caregiving. After bivariate comparisons, we then developed multivariable models using logistic regression to assess characteristics associated with surrogate seeking.
RESULTS: Out of 1250 respondents who reported seeking health information online, 56% (N=705) reported being surrogate seekers. In multivariable models, compared with those who sought information for themselves only, surrogate seekers were more likely both married and a parent (OR=1.57, CI=1.08, 2.28), having good (OR=2.05, CI=1.34, 3.12) or excellent (OR=2.72, CI=1.70, 4.33) health status, being caregiver of an adult relative (OR=1.76, CI=1.34, 2.30), having someone close with a serious medical condition (OR=1.62, CI=1.21, 2.17) and having someone close to them facing a chronic illness (OR=1.55, CI=1.17, 2.04).
CONCLUSIONS: Our findings provide evidence that information needs of surrogate seekers are not being met, specifically of caregivers. Additional research is needed to develop new functions that support surrogate seekers.