"Dr YouTube" is Confounding Patients, and It's the Medical Community's Fault

It's normal to find misleading videos online, but scientists have found that even the ones published by health systems aren't up to snuff.

More patients are turning to the vast cache of resources on the internet for health advice every day, and scientists are beginning to understand whether that phenomenon is for better or worse.

In a recent study, investigators at William Paterson University determined that YouTube was a dubious purveyor of meaningful clinical information pertaining to C. Difficile. New research from East Tennessee University confirms that the same is true as it pertains to a keyword search of “seasonal influenza.”

“For the most part, when people have a question about their health care today, or when they get sick, they just go on the web…and then they end up thinking they have 10 things,” said Pager CEO Walter Jin, in an interview with Healthcare Analytics News, a sister publication of MD Magazine.

Since it can take weeks to secure an appointment with a primary care physician, it’s not realistic to try to dissuade patients from searching the web for answers to important health care questions. Instead, new research “reiterates the need for higher quality education videos on seasonal influenza [and other conditions] by the medical community,” researchers wrote.

Based on guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 10 blinded reviewers implemented a -10 to +40 scoring system for the quality of information contained in 300 videos that populated as results for the search term “seasonal influenza.” Negative points were given for misleading or incorrect information.

Of the 300 videos reviewed, researchers found that only 38.3% were sourced from a professional society, and 1.33% were sourced from alternative medical providers. Similarly, 46% of video content was focused on patient education, while 1% was focused on alternative seasonal influenza treatments.

Several of the alternative medicine videos, which included home movies from patients, contained antagonistic comments that further propagated misleading information. Examples included, “I’d rather get the flu every year than a flu shot,” and “The US government just had a press release of new info as to the link between vaccines and Autism.” Antagonistic comments highlight the importance of guiding patients to an accurate source for information, researchers wrote.

“Physicians should be aware that patients are searching the Internet at increasing rates and that the information they find can often be misleading or incomplete,” Corey Basch, MPH, told MD Magazine. “It is always important for patients to search for information from trusted sources, such as government agencies or those with necessary qualifications to produce reliable information.”

However, while most YouTube videos on influenza were provided by professional societies and health care providers, with more than half of identified videos attempting to educate patients, these videos still did not meet criteria as far as educating patients thoroughly, even though they contained accurate information.

Mean scores of symptoms, diagnosis, management, prevention and misleading information for videos sourced from professional societies were higher compared with alternative medicine videos. This difference was statistically significant (p < 0.05). However, mean scores on definition by sources was not statistically significant (p < 0.21).

Overall, researchers concluded that YouTube videos on seasonal influenza were shown to be a poor source of valid health care information.