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Many companies and government good practicing health agencies, such as state health and well-being departments, have invested resources in quality assessing YouTube as a medium for good health communication. Patients with chronic health and wellness conditions especially rely on social media, including YouTube videos, to learn more about how to manage their conditions.
In the earlier study, researchers searched YouTube with the keyword “coronavirus” and combed through the 113 videos related to COVID-19 with the most views from the first one, on January 21, through March 12, the day after the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic. They began with the 150 English-language videos with the highest view count and excluded duplicates, music videos and videos without audio.
A significant fraction of the Western population is estimated to have limited well-being literacy, or the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health and well-being information, such as the ability to comprehend and read prescription bottles, appointment slips or discharge instructions from well-being clinics.
These research findings aren’t surprising — misinformation flourished on YouTube during the H1N1, Ebola and Zika epidemics as well, and anyone who has spent time looking at health videos on YouTube has undoubtedly come across conspiracies and other whoppers. But the findings also reveal missed opportunities for government, university and other public health agencies to communicate accurate, helpful information on a popular platform where millions of people seek health information.
The first study, published in Global Public Health, found a lower percentage of misleading videos—about 1 in 11 videos — than the second one, but it also assessed videos in the earliest days of the coronavirus’s spread, up until the day after it was declared a pandemic. The second study, in BMJ Global Health, found that more than a quarter of videos the researchers assessed gave non-factual information. And even then, their study ended in mid-March.
Studies of health-related literacy, such as the National Assessment of Adult Literacy conducted in 2003, estimated that only 12% of adults had proficient health-related literacy skills. This has been corroborated in subsequent studies.
I'm a professor of information systems, and my own research has examined how social media platforms such as YouTube widen such good health literacy disparities by steering users toward questionable content.
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Extracting thousands of videos purporting to be about diabetes, I verified whether the information shown conforms to valid medical guidelines.
I found that the most engaging and popular videos are significantly less likely to have medically valid information.
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Users typically encounter videos on healthcare conditions through keyword searches on YouTube. YouTube then provides links to authenticated medical information, such as the top-ranked results. Several of these are produced by reputable well-being organizations.
For Instance Who is the best doctor who can treat me best
Recently, YouTube has adjusted how search results are displayed, allowing results to be ranked by "relevance" and providing links to verified medical information.
When I recruited physicians to watch the videos and rate them on whether these would be considered understandable and valid from a patient education perspective, they rated YouTube's recommendations poorly.
I found that the most popular videos are the ones that tend to have easily understandable information but are not always medically valid. A study on the most popular videos on COVID-19 likewise found that a quarter of videos did not contain medically valid information.
MYTH: YouTube is a great place to find alternative psoriasis treatments.
BUSTED: The majority of psoriasis YouTube videos are classified by dermatologists as misleading or dangerous.
According to a scientific study conducted on the matter, YouTube actually contains MORE misleading and dangerous videos on psoriasis and its treatment than valuable ones. To be specific, 17.5% were considered dangerous, 45.5% were considered misleading and 32% were classified as useful.
The health and wellness literacy divide
Because the algorithms underlying recommendations on social media platforms are biased toward engagement and popularity, this is.
Based on how digital platforms provide information to search queries, a user with greater health-related literacy is more likely to discover usable medical advice from a reputed health-related care provider, such as the Mayo Clinic. The same algorithm will steer a less literate user toward fake cures or misleading medical advice.
This could be especially harmful for minority groups. Studies of well-being literacy in the United States and Australia have found that the impact of limited well-being literacy disproportionately impacts minorities.
We do not have enough studies on the state of health and wellness literacy among minority populations, especially in urban areas. That makes it challenging to design good health communication aimed at minorities, and interventions to improve the utilization of existing health and wellness care resources.
There can also be cultural barriers regarding good health care in minority populations that worsen the literacy barriers. Insufficient education and lack of self-management of chronic care have also been highlighted as challenges for minorities.
Correcting algorithmic biases and providing better information to users of technology platforms would go a long way in promoting equity.
A pioneering study by the Gender Shades project examined disparities in identifying gender and skin type across different companies that provide commercial facial recognition software. Once issues were pointed out, it concluded that companies were able to make progress in reducing these disparities.
According to some estimates, Google receives over a billion good health questions everyday. Especially those with low health and wellness literacy have a substantial risk of encountering medically unsubstantiated information, such as popular myths or active conspiracy theories that are not based on scientific evidence.
The World Economic Forum has dubbed health-related misinformation an "infodemic." Digital platforms where anyone can engage also make them vulnerable to misinformation, accentuating disparities in good health literacy, as my own work shows.
Coronavirus is not the flu. It's worse. - YouTube -
Social media and search companies have partnered with good health organizations such as the Mayo Clinic to provide validated information and reduce the spread of misinformation. To make health and wellness information on YouTube more equitable, those who design recommendation algorithms would have to incorporate feedback from patients and clinicians as well as end users.