Background: With the increase in the use of the internet to search for health information about health-related problems, there is a need for health care professionals to better understand how their patients search for and use the online health information that may influence their medical decision making. Objective: The aims of this study are to explore laypeople’s online health information search strategies and examine the relationships between their search strategies and utilization behavior of online health information. Methods: Two scales, namely match and elaboration, were used to measure patients’ basic search strategies (ie, simple approach) and advanced search strategies (ie, integrative approach), respectively. In addition, the consultation scale was used to evaluate the participants’ use of online health information to consult doctors and others. A total of 253 outpatients without university education were purposely selected and surveyed. The participants were outpatients at a university-affiliated teaching hospital. Partial least squares-structural equation modeling (PLS-SEM) was performed to analyze the measurement model to specify the measurement validation. In addition, the structure model of PLS-SEM was evaluated to examine the path correlations between variables and to execute interaction effect and curvilinear relationship analyses. Results: The results of the path correlation analysis by PLS-SEM showed that both elaboration strategy (path coefficient=0.55, P<.001) and match strategy (path coefficient=0.36, P<.001) were positively correlated with consultation on online health information with doctors and others. In addition, interaction effect and curvilinear relationship analyses indicated that there was a significant interaction effect between elaboration and match on consultation (path coefficient=–0.34, P<.001) and a significant curvilinear relationship between match and consultation (path coefficient=–0.09, P=.046). Conclusions: Increasing patients’ exposure to online health information through both a simple search approach (ie, match strategy) and a complex search approach (ie, elaboration strategy) may lead them to appropriately use the information to consult doctors and others. However, the results of interaction effect and curvilinear relationship analyses highlighted the essential role of the elaboration strategy to properly locate, evaluate, and apply online health information. The findings of this study may help health care professionals better understand how to communicate with their patients through the health information on the internet.
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