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New Voices RGU Student Series: Christiane Sago

Category: New Voices

This blog is posted as part of our New Voices RGU Student Series, where we are publishing blogs written by Robert Gordon University Information and Library Studies Students as part of their coursework.

About the writer: Christiane Sago has an undergraduate degree in English Language with Creative Writing from Bangor University and is currently studying for her MSc in Information and Library Studies at Robert Gordon University.

The Role of an Information Professional in Developing an Enquirer’s Digital Literacy in the Context of Cancer Diagnoses.

In this blog post, I will explore how an information professional can increase digital literacy skills for an enquirer in relation to healthcare, and specifically those who have received a cancer diagnosis.

Whilst only seven percent of search queries conducted on Google each day are healthcare-related, this still amounts to 70,000 healthcare queries every minute around the world (Drees 2019).

I know from personal experience that someone receiving a cancer diagnosis is often told by doctors not to search for information about their condition online. This is because while there is good information available online, most search engines will not differentiate between a website containing information from the NHS (NHS 2019) and a website claiming to be able to cure cancer with crystals. (Uilyc 2017).

When someone receives a cancer diagnosis, and their emotions are running high, their perceptions of what information is good or bad, trustworthy or untrustworthy, might well be lower than usual.

This is where an information professional can help. The information professional can work with the enquirer to give them a set of simple rules to follow when conducting their searches.

The four rules that could be provided by the information professional are:

  1. Is the provider a trustworthy source such as the NHS? (NHS 2019). Or if in America the Mayo clinic. (MAYO CLINIC 2019) It would be important to note that the treatments available will differ depending on where the enquirer is based.
  2. Does the information conform to the Health on The Net code (HON)? This is a seal of approval that the webpage is reviewed regularly and the information updated, so the enquirer can be sure they are not reading out-of-date information (Health on The Net 2017). Websites that adhere to the code usually have a symbol at the bottom of the page.
  3. Does the source have a medical advisory board? This is often, but not always, stated on the webpage.
  4. Are they asking for money? Any website that is asking for money is usually not attached to any legitimate claims or treatments.

The information professional could help the enquirer to recognise these four points when they are conducting their searches. The enquirer would then know that, even when their ability to be impartial and make informed decisions is diminished, they can still evaluate the information they find – as they will most likely search for the information – and make a judgment as to which information is of high quality.

While this blog post has focussed on an enquirer who has received a cancer diagnosis, the four points above could be applied to other healthcare queries as well, allowing the enquirer to increase their digital literacy – as well as the digital literacy of their friends and family – long past their cancer diagnosis.

The role of an information professional in the development of digital literacy in the context of someone who has just received a cancer diagnosis is simply to ensure the enquirer has the tools to evaluate information impartially. The average Google (Google 1998) search will supply many, many sources of information. An information professional can help a person to make informed decisions about which websites to visit and which websites to trust. This is especially important at a time when distress and concern may cloud a person’s judgement. This will also help the doctor as their patient will not have found a lot of invalid information that the doctor has to spend time discounting at the next visit.


  1. DREES, J., 2019. Google receives more than 1 billion health questions every day. [online]. Chicago, IL.: Becker’s Healthcare. Available from: [Accessed 18/10/19].
  2. NHS, 2019. Overview Cancer. [online]. United Kingdom: National Health Service. Available from: [Accessed 18/10/19].
  3. UILYC, C., 2017., Healing crystals for 12 different cancers: what I wish everyone knew. [online]. 17 March 2017. Available from: [Accessed 19/10/19].
  4. MAYO CLINIC, 2019. [online]. Scottsdale, AZ.: Mayo Clinic. Available from: [Accessed 18/10/19].
  5. HEALTH ON THE NET FOUNDATION, 2017. The commitment to reliable health and medical information on the internet. [online]. Switzerland: Health on The Net Foundation. Available from: [Accessed 18/10/19].
  6. Google, 1998. Google search. [online]. California: Google. Available from: [Accessed 18/10/19].

**The views expressed in our guest blogs are the writer’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of CILIPS**

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