Maybe you’ve spent some of your career working on initiatives that empower patients to make sound health decisions, such as by developing quality content that’s easy for them to find. If so, you probably wouldn’t associate the notion of “too much of a good thing” with the availability of health information. But the truth is that information’s availability can get in the way of its absorption in some surprising ways.

Certainly, Google and the like have improved patient access to health information—about 83% of adult internet users search online for health information. And, from a behavioral science perspective, this is advantageous: given our limited cognitive bandwidth, making it easier to find information should free up some bandwidth to process and understand it. But in reality that is often not the case. Instead, easy access to information can create unintended barriers to making truly informed, thought-out decisions. Here are a few that communicators should keep in mind.

  • It’s the loud voices or the most extreme stories that we pay attention to.  But these are not necessarily the most credible sources of information.
  • Digital amnesia: We tend to forget the specifics of the information we find on search engines. People often don’t try to process information. Just finding it—and knowing they know how to find it again—is perceived as good enough.
  • Just knowing that we can search for information if we want to can give us a false sense that we understand a topic better than we really do.

When you’re a healthcare communicator, it’s often critical for your audiences not to go with their gut—but to make complex decisions requiring rational consideration. Here are some things you can do to help ensure your customer makes an informed decision.

  • Not only highlight quality information but flag what’s junk
  • Provide specific guidance and scenarios to help put the information to use
  • Find ways that the audience can test their understanding through efforts like games and quizzes

About the Author:

Kathleen Starr, PhD, is Head of Behavioral Insights & Strategy at Syneos Health Communications