Consumers’ search for health answers finds new paths amid a deluge of information

Signature study from W2O Emerging Insights Lab at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School indicates health companies’ role important but shifting

Syracuse, New York

SYRACUSE, N.Y., April 27, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- At a time when information is ubiquitous and public health is top of mind, a new study on health fluency indicates that the role of health companies in consumer education is shifting amid new, diverse voices, yet still plays a meaningful and important role in the public conversation.  

The signature study—The Fluency Report: Health Literacy—released today by the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, was conducted by the Newhouse School’s W2O Emerging Insights Lab (EIL), led by Regina Luttrell, associate dean and director of the EIL, in association with Real Chemistry, a global health innovation company. 

Digital health literacy encompasses a consumer’s understanding of topics such as insurance coverage, disease diagnoses, medication adherence, coordinated care and preventative care. The democratization of information was already changing the way the public sought out information on these topics, but trends accelerated in 2020 as a concrete set of issues dominated the headlines: the COVID-19 pandemic, the presidential election, health care policy, racial divides and equity and access.

“There is a seismic change happening in the nation, and most notably in health care,” Luttrell says. “Understanding consumer conversations occurring in the health space will help us better comprehend the level and depth of knowledge and factual understanding by consumers, which can lead to better solutions for individual and societal health outcomes. This study will be an ongoing annual effort by the W2O EIL and Real Chemistry to ensure consumers and organizations are doing all they can to align on facts, data and information regarding health.”

“As a global health innovation company, Real Chemistry is dedicated to improving health care through marketing and communications that help get the right treatment to the right patient at the right time,” says Jim Weiss ‘87, founder and CEO of Real Chemistry and a Newhouse alumnus. “Further, our partnership with the Newhouse School, which includes the EIL and the W2O Center for Social Commerce, is designed to improve the career opportunities of students, and to strengthen the talent pool of health care organizations globally. This study reflects our collective desire to up-level health confidence across society.”

The W2O EIL research team employed digital and social research models to ascertain what online audiences were interested in, discussing/debating and concerned about, highlighting key data that resonated. Additionally, AI (artificial intelligence) and machine learning allowed them to analyze text and identify themes.

Among key findings of the report:

  • Democratization of information and the plethora of social and digital platforms have led consumers to turn to a wider variety of health care sources. They now seek out authoritative sources for information about well-defined health care issues but use social media and crowdsourcing for information about less-understood topics and more authentic dialogue.
  • Consumers view search and earned media as a “tell me” interaction, and social media as a “talk with me” interaction. They crave engagement and conversation, rather than the pushing of information.
  • Consumers are looking for diverse voices who can speak authentically to historically underserved populations. They don’t always see companies as the best spokespeople but want companies to play the role of “creator and convener” and help elevate the spokespeople they value and trust.
  • Consumers consider themselves to be their own best health care advocates and will disregard sources that don’t respect and work with that perspective.

“As information sources have become fragmented and diverse, consumers are looking for authentic, trusted voices who speak to them and look like them,” Luttrell says.

“We at Newhouse are grateful for our strong partnership with Real Chemistry, which provides incredible opportunities for our students and helps amplify the thought leadership of our talented faculty scholars,” says Newhouse dean Mark J. Lodato. “This important study provides insight that has universal appeal to the entire industry.” 

A copy of the report is available at For more information, contact Luttrell at 315.443.3613 or


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