Maryland University of Integrative Health recently held our second annual Research Symposium to highlight the University’s research and scholarship. The center-piece of the event was a poster session displaying research from members of the MUIH community. Awards of excellence are given each year, and this year’s Faculty Research Poster Award winner was Daryl Nault, M.S. Daryl is an adjunct faculty member at MUIH and presently teaches research literacy and statistics. She holds master’s degrees in both human nutrition and integrative medical research. We recently interviewed Daryl about her research study, and the role of eHealth literacy within the integrative health field.
Your research study was titled “Cross-Sectional Analysis of eHealth Literacy Characteristics within Herbal Supplement Users.” Tell me a little more about the goal of this study.
This study is actually part three of a four-part analysis of herbal supplement users (HSUs). I’m really interested in the idea that the users of herbal medicine are a unique population that is typically proactive when it comes to their health. There is an assumption that people who employ integrative medicine don’t rely heavily on evidence-based advice. So I decided to look and see if members of this population have a strong background of what we call eHealth literacy. The majority of HSUs report that they’re getting their information online and through the media, and eHealth literacy is concerned with how this information is found, appraised, and applied.
The first part of this project attempted to identify whether or not core eHealth literacy (CeHL) was a concept that could be demonstrated within the population at large. The concept of core eHealth literacy is generally measured through four components: general traditional education; information literacy, or the ability to find and search for information; computer literacy, such as how familiar are people with using the internet and computers in general; and finally health literacy, which is more of a combination of health behaviors and interacting with the healthcare system. We used the National Health Interview Survey sample, since it is a nationally representative survey, and analyzed the questions for an underlying linear response pattern. In the end, we were able to identify several survey questions matching a pattern that resembled the concepts of CeHL. This provided a start to showing that CeHL exists within the population as a meaningful construct, and it also gave us the variables of interest for further analyses.
With the second part, we looked at whether or not responses to these survey questions differed by generation. It’s often purported that older generations may lack general technologic skills required to find online health information, because they were not introduced to it at an early age. Our findings showed that generally, only the eldest generation (the Silent Generation b. 1928-1945) really exhibited any differences in regular technology use and online health information seeking. This serves as a reminder that when we are trying to create interventions that utilize eHealth, it is crucial to be aware of the skills, knowledge, and capabilities of the target audience.
For this third part of the study, I analyzed the four eHealth literacy components in herbal supplement users to determine whether or not they exhibited baseline skills that differed from the remaining population.
How is the research applicable to enhancing the delivery of herbal medicine?
This research offers a deeper understanding of how prepared HSUs are to find and obtain information about their health practices and supplements online. We set out to analyze if they have a baseline capability of eHealth literacy. It turned out that HSUs demonstrate having far more of these baseline eHealth Literacy skills when compared to others in the population. But this is the first step in looking at these groups in this capacity, and thinking about what they can do in their own proactive health-seeking behaviors.
What new knowledge or new perspective does this research bring to the field of herbal medicine?
I think these findings show that HSUs have the capacity to seek, find and apply health information found online. We can now start looking at how we as herbal medicine practitioners supply information and better tailor it to make sure that those who want to try integrative health interventions are getting the correct information at the right time. We need to now consider that we have a group of people that are really proactive in their own health, and ask ourselves how we can be helpful in their pursuits, to truly treat the whole individual.
What is your goal for this research, moving forward?
My goal for this phase of the study was to illustrate to the scientific community how herbal supplement users find and consume information about their health outside of direct practitioner-client communications. Many people who use herbal medicine are typically showing that they can apply health information and that they’re invested in their healthcare. The next and final step will be to look at where herbal supplement users are getting their information. We want to review if they’re getting their information from reliable sources and figure out how we as scientists and health educators can work with those resources to improve the information that’s being delivered and how it gets there.
The 2017 Research Symposium was held on March 24, 2017. You can learn more about the event and additional research initiatives happening at Maryland University of Integrative Health here.