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Internet searching, question-answering systems, prostate cancer screening decisions, disparities


Purpose: This paper presents a multipart investigation of the benefits and challenges in deploying automated question-answering as an alternative to web-based searching to provide information about prostate cancer screening for low-income men age 40 years and older.

Methods: The study comprised: 1) a survey assessing current use of the Internet, mobile phones and texting; 2) a controlled observational study of both web-based searching and automated question-answering for information about prostate cancer; and 3) a formative field study in which subjects interacted with a health department nurse using text messages.

Results: Survey results suggest the target population has greater access to, and familiarity with, cell phones and text messaging compared to the Internet and web-based searching. Participants were significantly more confident using a cell phone and preferred to get health information through text messaging. Participants in the controlled observational study accepted the text messaging system, with most indicating it answered their questions, was easy to use and was a favorable tool for information-seeking. The field study also demonstrated potential for automated question-answering and text messaging to help the target population access health information.

Conclusions: A two-way text messaging system has great potential to promote health communication and health information distribution. Participant interest in this system was high and did not seem to be specific to prostate cancer screening, suggesting that information about other topics, such as high blood pressure screening, could be provided similarly. We believe more investigations should be focused on this area, especially on benefits for the low-income community.

Online Appendix 1 (14-020).pdf (32 kB)
Outgoing text messages for field study.