Health seeking behavior (HSB) has been defined as any activity undertaken by individuals who perceive themselves to have a health problem or to be ill for the purpose of finding an appropriate remedy. The desired health seeking behavior is responding to an illness by seeking help from a trained allopathic doctor in a recognized health care center. It is worthy of note that health seeking behavior is influenced by manifestation of symptoms
It concerns the time difference between the onset of an illness and getting in contact with a healthcare professional, type of healthcare provider patients sought help from, how compliant patient is with the recommended treatment, reasons for choice of healthcare professional and reasons for not seeking help from healthcare professionals.
Health seeking behavior lies within the broader concept of health behavior, which encompasses activities undertaken to maintain good health, to prevent ill health, as well as dealing with any departure from a good state of health.
Various studies has shown that one’s decision to engage with a particular medical channel is influenced by a variety of socio -economic variables, sex, age, social status of women, type of illness, access to services and perceived quality of the service.
Factors that affect Health- Seeking Behaviors
Type of illness
Depending on illness type, people seek different forms of treatments specific to the disease they are diagnosed with
Severity of illness
Based on the severity of the diagnosed disease, people might select different forms of treatments and medication. While individuals who perceive their illness to be severe would be more likely to seek medical care, those who perceive theirs to be mild are less likely to seek treatment.
Accessibility & Availability
In relation to where a person lives in, some treatment might be available but not other forms of treatments. Therefore, a patient is limited to what is accessible and available to them when seeking treatment for a disease.
Socio-Economic Status (SES)
In general, socioeconomic factors including educational level, economic conditions, cultural beliefs, residence location etc. play a significant role to determine health care behavior.
Low socioeconomic status is a common barrier to get health services for people. Factors that are at play here include education, occupation and income and this transcends to the doctor fees, cost of transport, and cost of medicine which most cannot afford.
People with high SES are more likely to use high-quality health services. They often have better health insurance coverage and can afford medical bills without haven to worry about to sort out other essential needs.
Gender and Health-Seeking Behavior
Women tend to engage in less health-seeking behavior compared to their male. Three things affect women’s decision-making process for seeking healthcare.
Firstly, women generally are less likely to identify disease symptoms in the first place. They often would shrug of symptoms as normal everyday muscle aches or normal regular occurrence. To be able to recognize and identify a health problem, one needs to have some form of knowledge and awareness of symptoms and illnesses.
Secondly, women tend to belief that they are more restricted compared to their male counterparts in terms of health care accessibility. This is due largely to cultural ideas about the social value of women, which is lower compared to men.
Thirdly, women do not engage in healthcare treatments even if they recognized that they have a health problem. This is partly due to restricted accessibility to health services given the social roles of women, which may limit their ability to visit healthcare facilitates. For instance, in certain societies, a woman would have to seek the permission of her husband to visit a healthcare centre.
Culture and Health-Seeking Behavior
Factors such as cultural values and gender roles are significant in influencing the decision making process associated with health-seeking behavior.
For example, Asian-American cultures which are strongly influenced by Confucian doctrines, which emphasized the importance of “interdependence,” “collectivism,” and “familism”.
These values reinforce the expectation of individuals to place the needs of the family before their own, which may discourage them to pro-actively seek healthcare in a timely manner. The cultures suggest that physical and mental distress are family problems rather than an individual ones meaning that they should not be revealed to people outside their kin. Hence they tend to turn to family members before pursuing external help, thereby delaying the act of seeking professional health care.
In most African communities, the decision to seek care, including the type of care, is culturally in the hands of the man.
Cultural beliefs and practices often lead to self-care, home remedies and consultation with traditional healers in rural communities
Stigma and Health-Seeking Behavior
It is important to note that some cultures or individuals feel that seeking treatment is a shameful thing because it is akin to announcing to public that you have an illness.
There are cases where people who seek a form of health treatment are regarded as weak and are looked down on. For instance, women being taunted for having caesarean section instead of vaginal birth. This has seen a lot of women turn down caesarean section to the detriment of their own health even when there are glaring contraindication to vaginal birth.
Implications for the Healthcare System
Understanding the different factors that affects an individual’s decision to seek healthcare treatment is paramount as it ensures that professionals are better able to recommend treatments that are appropriate to the individual, so as to promote health seeking behaviors.
O.O. Latunji and O.O. Akinyemi factors influencing health-seeking behaviour among civil servants in ibadan, Nigeria. Ann Ib Postgrad Med. 2018 Jun; 16(1): 52–60.
Currie and Wiesenberg (2003) Promoting women’s health-seeking behavior Psychology, Medicine. Health Care for Women International