Objective: Health information helplines have an important function in health education, prevention and counseling. Information and help services are increasingly provided online. This study focuses on the differences and similarities between online help services and telephone services.
Methods: The telephone service of the Dutch AIDS STI helpline was compared to its e-mail equivalent. After consulting the helpline service, both callers and e-mailers (N-tot = 455) were asked to participate in a survey that evaluated their background characteristics, contacting reasons, and satisfaction with the specific service and information received. The survey also included questions regarding the advice received from the helpline. A follow-up measure 4 weeks after the baseline survey evaluated to what extent clients acted upon the advice.
Results: The study shows that both services are positively evaluated and are equally persuasive in their counseling. Differences between callers and e-mailers were found regarding background characteristics, content of the consultation, satisfaction, and the advice received.
Conclusion: It can be concluded that online health information services are an important addition to, but not a replacement for, the traditional telephone helplines.
Practice implications: In order to provide an optimal health service to a wide public, both online and telephone counseling should be offered.