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Older Adults Searching for Health Information in MedlinePlus - An Exploratory Study of Faceted Online Search Interfaces

Bill Kules and Bo Xie

ASIST 2011 Annual Meeting 
New Orleans, LA, October 9-12, 2011


Relatively little is known about how older adults search for health information online, particularly via faceted search interfaces that are increasingly prevalent on the web. To begin to address this gap in the literature, we conducted an exploratory study of older adults' use of a faceted search interface, MedlinePlus, to search for health information. The study uses selected measures of click behavior along with eye tracking techniques to examine how searchers with limited online search experience interact with a faceted web search interface. It investigates important aspects of faceted search interfaces, including: searcher gaze behavior (what components of the interface searchers look, how frequently, and for how long); how gaze behavior differs for different health conditions; and how searchers describe their actions. Five older adults aged between 56 and 87 (mean age = 73.5) participated in this study, conducted in a public library, between October and December 2010. Overall participant use of facets was similar to previous findings, approximately 20-30% of fixation counts and total fixation duration. Searchers appeared to use the facets more for more severe health conditions. These findings may be useful for researchers (e.g., to inform models of health information seeking behavior) as well as practitioners (e.g., for improving search interface designs).

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