Illness trajectory and Internet as a health information and communication channel used by parents of infants admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit

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Internet use became an integral part of the healthcare relationship. Literature indicates that the illness trajectory plays a role in the use of Internet as a health information tool. This study focuses on infants admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit.


This study aims to understand how the illness trajectory triggers the use of Internet by parents of infants admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit, using a conceptual framework influenced by Corbin and Strauss' illness trajectory.


This study was based on a qualitative longitudinal multiple-case study design.


From July 2007–August 2008 and from June 2009–May 2010, parents with newborns were prospectively interviewed over a period of 10 months. Parents were recruited in four neonatal intensive care units. The interviews were subject of a thematic content analysis.


The multi-layered illness trajectory triggers Internet use. Parents' online health information behaviour interacts with other information channels too (such as interaction with healthcare professionals). Parents accumulate knowledge along the illness trajectory affecting their information needs. The sickness trajectory helps to understand the complexity of the information behaviour. Labels have a major impact on the effectiveness of search strategies.


Nursing and other healthcare professionals should become more aware about the complex relationship between information needs and Internet use along the illness trajectory of an infant. As such, they will be more able to assist parents in finding and evaluating high-quality online information at the right time.

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