A clustering approach to segmenting users of internet-based risk calculators

Christopher A. Harle, J. S. Downs, R. Padman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Background: Risk calculators are widely available Internet applications that deliver quantitative health risk estimates to consumers. Although these tools are known to have varying effects on risk perceptions, little is known about who will be more likely to accept objective risk estimates. Objective: To identify clusters of online health consumers that help explain variation in individual improvement in risk perceptions from web-based quantitative disease risk information. Methods: A secondary analysis was per - formed on data collected in a field experiment that measured people's pre-diabetes risk perceptions before and after visiting a realistic health promotion website that provided quantitative risk information. K-means clustering was performed on numerous candidate variable sets, and the different segmentations were evaluated based on between-cluster variation in risk perception improvement. Results: Variation in responses to risk information was best explained by clustering on pre-intervention absolute pre-diabetes risk perceptions and an objective estimate of personal risk. Members of a high-risk overestimater cluster showed large improvements in their risk perceptions, but clusters of both moderate-risk and high-risk underestimaters were much more muted in improving their optimistically biased perceptions. Conclusions: Cluster analysis provided a unique approach for segmenting health consumers and predicting their acceptance of quantitative disease risk information. These clusters suggest that health consumers were very responsive to good news, but tended not to incorporate bad news into their self-perceptions much. These findings help to quantify variation among online health consumers and may inform the targeted marketing of and improvements to risk communication tools on the Internet.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)244-252
Number of pages9
JournalMethods of information in medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 19 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Cluster analysis
  • Consumer health information
  • Internet
  • Risk assessment
  • Risk communication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics
  • Advanced and Specialized Nursing
  • Health Information Management

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