Medical students favor social media for health information, study shows

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In a recent article published in BMC Public Healthresearchers developed a Health Messenger Questionnaire to measure the preferences of medical students in selecting health messengers for acquiring health-related information.

Study: Which educational messengers do medical students prefer for receiving healthinformation? Development and psychometrics of using health messengers questionnaire. Image Credit: yurakrasil/Shutterstock.comStudy: Which educational messengers do medical students prefer for receiving healthinformation? Development and psychometrics of using health messengers questionnaire. Image Credit: yurakrasil/Shutterstock.com

Background

Mobile devices and social media have increased access to health information, but the choice of source to acquire it varies from person to person.

Individuals have different preferences for sources of health-related information depending on their age, gender, living conditions, and education.

For instance, medical students acquire health knowledge to transmit to their patients and families and improve their knowledge base.

Earlier, people believed that students are relatively healthy due to their age (youth); however, research shows that unhygienic behaviors have become prevalent even among medical students. Even they are reluctant to adopt healthy lifestyle habits, such as physical activity.

Moreover, the evidence suggests this problem is now a significant global issue. A study conducted on medical university students in Saudi Arabia reported unsatisfactory health-promoting lifestyle scores of students.

Likewise, studies conducted in the United States and the United Kingdom have shown similar results. Thus, health policies should pay attention to promoting healthy lifestyles among students. 

Using mobile-based approaches to disseminate health messages could greatly enhance health education and awareness in this group of individuals.

Mobile applications, WhatsApp, Telegram, and Instagram are great platforms for transferring and strengthening health education.

Here, students can communicate with others, discuss and exchange opinions, and share the content (images/videos) they like. 

Thus, these channels may help promote healthy behaviors among students whose health behaviors are important as they will impact the quality of their future lives and how they will run the world. 

About the study

In the present study, researchers designed a descriptive survey in electronic format for all undergraduate and postgraduate students of the 2021–2022 academic year studying at Shiraz University of Medical Sciences (SUMS) in Iran.

It comprised 15 items categorized into six components, as follows: 

i) academic sources (two items); 

ii) formal news sources (two items); 

iii) mass media (three items); 

iv) internet search (two items); 

v) social media and messenger applications (four items); and 

vi) informal conversation (two items).

Before its dissemination among medical students, ten educational experts reviewed its face validity. Moreover, the researchers determined the validity of its content using the Content Validity Ratio (CVR) and Content Validity Index (CVI).

Further, they determined the reliability of the questionnaire dimensions (components) to investigate the impact of each item on the overall reliability.

The team emailed the questionnaire link to all participating students in the second half of the academic year.

In response, they had to indicate their preferences for various health messaging media by selecting their choices. Next, they collected data and analyzed it anonymously. 

Before implementing the factor analysis, the team tested the questionnaire on two variable appropriateness criteria using Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin (KMO) and Bartlett's Sphericity tests.

The first test confirmed the relative correlation between the study variables, and the second measured the adequacy of the number of samples.

Finally, the team used the exploratory factor analysis method to analyze the construct validity or psychometric measurement of the study instrument (in this case, a questionnaire) and factor loading of each component.

Results

The authors received 500 completed questionnaires from 200 male and 300 female students, most of whom were undergraduate students (n= 181).

In the face validity review, experts recommended no changes in the questionnaire.

In the reliability review, Cronbach's alpha coefficient for the questionnaire was 0.818, indicating that the items had a high internal consistency.

A KMO of 0.810 and Bartlett's sphericity index of P<0.0001 confirmed the suitability and saturation of the questionnaire. Five factors extracted in the factor analysis of the questionnaire explained ~64% of the construct. 

Social media-based health messengers had the highest factor load; thus, they were the first choice of the study population (28.92%).

In these, respective factor loads of Telegram, Instagram, and WhatsApp were 0.85, 0.79, and 0.71.

Other preferred sources for health information for medical students were official and unofficial health and academic sources, internet searches, and mass media, with respective shares of 10.76%, 9.08%, 8.18%, and 7.13%.

Conclusions

Overall, the study results confirmed that medical students prioritized mobile-based methods, free from time and space restrictions and easy to access, for acquiring and spreading health information. 

Therefore, health policies should pay attention to virtual capabilities, especially mobile-based approaches, to develop health knowledge and awareness among students.

The other most preferred sources of health information for all medical students were official, unofficial health, and academic sources.

Thus, it seems necessary to also periodically update medical science websites.

Journal reference:
Neha Mathur

Written by

Neha Mathur

Neha is a digital marketing professional based in Gurugram, India. She has a Master’s degree from the University of Rajasthan with a specialization in Biotechnology in 2008. She has experience in pre-clinical research as part of her research project in The Department of Toxicology at the prestigious Central Drug Research Institute (CDRI), Lucknow, India. She also holds a certification in C++ programming.

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