Health consumption on the Internet and consulting Doctor Google

Isabell Koinig | Foto: aau/Müller

Mediatisation has fundamentally transformed our interactions with medical professionals, our attitude to our own health, and our communication about health-related topics. In her research, Isabell Koinig deals with health communication. She addressed some of the phenomena which research has only taken up selectively, and whether she turns to Google herself when she feels a bit under the weather.

Those who manufacture and sell pharmaceutical products do not get to make a bargain with Isabell Koinig. The postdoc researcher at the Department of Media and Communication Studies relies on household remedies, handed down to her by her mother and grandmother. It is her belief, in general, that health is partly a matter of “mind-set” and that it has a mental component. As she says: “If I assume that I am resilient and that I can manage situations that present a challenge to my health, then I can draw on completely different strengths.” She also refrains from “googling” symptoms that might affect her.

This means that, as an individual, she is bucking the general trend, as her research in the field of health communications has revealed. Patients are increasingly turning into “health consumers”, and this also includes the conceptual aspect, as she explains. The term “health consumer” represents a new self-awareness: While physicians are still valued in terms of their professional authority, more and more individuals are taking their health matters into their own hands. This includes gathering information, frequently via the Internet: As a result, Koinig tells us, “health” is the sixth most frequent search term on the World Wide Web. This requires a change of thinking on part of physicians, who are turning to communication training more and more often, but also among the pharmaceutical companies aiming to sell their products. They use their advertisements to encourage “empowered” health consumers to buy this or that product.

Isabell Koinig recently spent a month as a visiting researcher at the Center for Health Communication at the University of Amsterdam, where she was introduced to other scientific approaches of exploring health communication. Describing her experiences, she reports: “While researchers in the German-speaking area tend to focus on studying how messages are received, scholars in Amsterdam go one step further and additionally ask: Which long-term behavioural changes do measures in the sphere of health communication produce? This approach has a more pronounced social science orientation.” She would like to use this approach in her upcoming research endeavours. Generally, she feels that many questions in this field remain unanswered. The design of her cumulative habilitation project is broad enough so that is able to explore the subject from several different angles.

For now, Isabell Koinig is fully committed to science, and she enjoys the time working in the university setting. Her path to date has been mostly linear: After completing her degrees in English and American Studies and Journalism in Klagenfurt – during her studies she spent several years working in the field of adult education – she was quickly able to secure a position in a project team, which led to a position as pre- and finally as postdoc researcher. She especially enjoys teaching: “It allows me the freedom to include topics that are of particular interest to me. With increasing age, I have a better grasp of the things that tend to elicit good feedback from students. Where health is concerned, and this also covers diet and fitness, we are right at the cutting edge.” Digitalisation, in particular, introduces new opportunities and challenges for health communication. mHealth, the use of mobile, electronic devices for health care purposes, is on the fast track; offers of this kind are booming and generating billions of dollars in turnover. “For me, as a scientist, it would be devastating if I knew that my research topic was limited”, Isabell Koinig states. It seems highly unlikely that she will have to face this risk in the thriving field of health communication.

A few words with … Isabell Koinig

What would you be doing now, if you had not become a scientist?

My list of dream jobs was very long – possibly a flight attendant.

Do your parents understand what it is you are working on?

More or less …

What is the first thing you do when you arrive at the office in the morning?

I make tea and check my calendar.

Do you have proper holidays? Without thinking about your work?

Not really … I should though …

What makes you furious?

Injustice and ignorance.

What calms you down?

It depends: music, sports, a good book … sometimes chocolate works.

Who do you regard as the greatest scientist in history, and why?

Stephen Hawking – because he did not allow himself to be discouraged, despite the limitations imposed by his body. And because he made a lasting impact on the field of physics.

What embarrasses you?

Poor manners and hubris (that feeling when you are embarrassed about the behaviour of others).

What are you afraid of?


What are you looking forward to?

Good company and delicious food.

Der Beitrag Health consumption on the Internet and consulting Doctor Google erschien zuerst auf University of Klagenfurt.

Source: AAU TEWI