Thirty-six of the 100 most-viewed eczema videos on YouTube are potentially harmful, and 46 contain misleading information, according to a study presented at the British Association of Dermatologists’ Annual Meeting in Liverpool (July 2 to 4, 2019).
This study analyzed the quality of information provided in the 100 most-viewed of the thousands of eczema-related videos on YouTube. Those 100 videos had, at the time of analysis, a combined total of 8,527,624 views and a total duration of seven hours and 52 minutes.
Researchers assessed the quality of the videos using the Global Quality Scale (GQS) and the DISCERN instrument and the videos were classified into ‘useful,’ ‘misleading’ and ‘potentially harmful.’ The number of viewers’ ratings (‘likes’) was correlated with the scores of the GQS and DISCERN.
The DISCERN instrument measures a video’s quality of information regarding treatment choices, in categories of reliability, quality of health information, and overall quality of publication. The GQS is based on a 5-point scale measuring the quality of the video, its flow and value as a source of information for medical lay people.
Investigators found that 46% of the YouTube videos were misleading, and 36% were found to disseminate content potentially dangerous to eczema patients.
Some of the videos not only encouraged patients with eczema to pursue unnecessary diets such as avoidance of dairy or gluten, but also to use harmful topical treatments and home-based phototherapies without any detailed information about the duration of the application and potential risks. Furthermore, conventional medicine and physician’s advice were discredited in various ways, while promising a “fast and easy cure.”
The two assessment tools, GQS and DISCERN, revealed that around two-thirds of the videos were of poor or very poor scientific quality. As well, viewers’ ‘likes’ did not correlate with the results of the GQS and DISCERN analysis, indicating that the viewers were not able to recognize good and poor quality of the videos.
Healthcare institutions and universities accounted for just 21% and 8% of the videos, respectively, with private individuals and promoters of complementary and alternative treatments having posted 50% of the videos analyzed.
“Social media is a continually growing source of medical information for patients, particularly for young people. This information often doesn’t undergo review for scientific accuracy or quality and, as our research shows, it has the potential to be heavily biased or even harmful,” said lead author Dr Simon Mueller of University Hospital Basel, Switzerland, in a press release.
“We hope that our research will make people think twice about the medical information they get from social media. The internet is a powerful and often helpful research tool, but where you source your information from is important. We do not advise against this kind of lay research, but we clearly advise against decision-making based on YouTube videos only. We rather encourage to discuss the content of the videos with a doctor of trust to avoid adverse outcomes.”
Holly Barber of the British Association of Dermatologists said: “With so much information about eczema available online, it can be hard to know who and what to trust. This study highlights that the number of views and likes a video has does not necessarily match up with the quality and accuracy of information presented.
“It’s really important that individuals and organizations are responsible about the information they share on social media. For members of the public looking for information, be skeptical of extraordinary claims made without evidence, and make use of reputable bodies such as the National Eczema Society, the NHS, or the British Association of Dermatologists.”