Parent's information seeking in acute childhood illness: what helps and what hinders decision making?

Health Expect. 2015 Dec;18(6):3044-56. doi: 10.1111/hex.12289. Epub 2014 Oct 20.


Context: Acute illness is a universal experience in early childhood. Parents find it difficult to determine whether or not their child requires medical care and seek information to inform their decision making. Little is known about parents' information seeking behaviour and what helps or hinders their decision making.

Objective: This study aimed to explore parents' use of information resources during decision making in acute childhood illness at home.

Design/method: This exploratory qualitative study used focus groups and interviews to collect data from parents of children under 5 years of age.

Setting and participants: Twenty-seven parents were recruited in the East Midlands, UK, in South Asian and Gypsy/Travelling communities, a Children's Centre and a private sector day nursery.

Findings: Parents' pre-consultation information seeking was dominated by the internet, albeit with limited success. Parents liked easy to access, professionally validated and simple messages with access to more detailed information. Some parents always sought information through personal contact, whilst others did so when independent information seeking failed. When consulting a healthcare professional, parents liked to be given information to refer to later, although the information received varied. Importantly, neither hard copy nor the internet was accessible for parents with low levels of literacy.

Discussion and conclusions: Although there is a wealth of information parents can access independently, our findings indicate a need for easy access to clearly signposted, professionally validated resources and available in a range of formats provided through different delivery systems. One size does not fit all.

Keywords: acute childhood illness; decision making; information resources; information seeking; parents; safety netting.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease / psychology*
  • Adult
  • Asia / ethnology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Decision Making*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Grounded Theory
  • Health Personnel
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Information Seeking Behavior*
  • Internet*
  • Literacy
  • Male
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Roma
  • United Kingdom