Four consumer health information centers in Richmond, Virginia, provide one-on-one assistance in accessing health information. Because they may not be fully utilized at present, an exploratory marketing study of factors affecting usage of the centers was conducted. Observers counted center passers-by and tracked their paths. Also, brief intercept interviews were conducted with people who had just used a center, people nearby who could have used one but did not, and people on the street. Finally, in-depth individual interviews were conducted with key informants. There was a high degree of satisfaction with the centers among users. Nonusers universally endorsed the center concept. However, most passers-by did not even glance at the centers, and intercept interviewees suggested better signage and promoting the resource centers through various media channels. Key informants added suggestions about interpersonal strategies (e.g., physician referrals) for center usage promotion but cautioned that a large increase in traffic could not be accommodated without increasing staff size or shifting from a model of individualized service. Triangulating findings from multiple data collection methods can provide useful guidance for efforts to promote center utilization. At minimum, steps should be taken to make the largest centers more noticeable. Because center utilization is not only associated with consumer satisfaction with hospitals, but may also foster health literacy, both hospital-based and community-based usage promotion strategies may be warranted. All such promotional strategies should be audience-tested before they are adopted.
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