'We want all hospitals to be our partners on this': YouTube's health chief on fight against misinformation

In his first advisory, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, urged technology and social media companies to "take more responsibility" to combat the proliferation of online health misinformation. YouTube has a plan to do just that, Garth Graham, MD, the director and global head of healthcare and public health partnerships at Google and YouTube, told Becker's.

Dr. Graham has dedicated his career to improving how Americans receive health information. Before leading the health team at Google and YouTube, he served as a cardiologist at Boston-based Mass General Brigham, CVS' chief community health officer, and the deputy assistant secretary for health at HHS.

In each role he has held, Dr. Graham witnessed how health information reaches patients at their own distinct worldview. They usually don't wait for busy clinicians to answer their questions after a diagnosis. Instead, they seek answers from the internet, community-based organizations, family and friends.

"[Patients] are looking for information, and that's where the opportunity for misinformation arises, but that's also where the opportunity for patient empowerment arises," Dr. Graham said. "Because then we can reach people with different kinds of information that allows them to make the right decision."

YouTube's latest initiative to combat health misinformation had four main focuses: removing misinformation, reducing its spread, promoting credible sources of health information and rewarding trustworthy content through monetization.

Removing online health misinformation without replenishing it with credible information "creates a vacuum," according to Dr. Graham. Removal is a start, but Americans need credible health information to reach them in an accessible, engaging way. 

Starting the week of July 19, YouTube is rolling out two new features. Health information panels will appear on videos to provide context about authoritative sources, and health information "shelves" will display videos from these sources when users search for specific health topics.

These features are aimed at helping users more easily navigate and evaluate credible health information while still allowing them to find relevant videos from a range of sources in their search results. 

YouTube has partnered with several leading healthcare providers to help populate its platform with credible health information, including Cleveland Clinic, Mass General Brigham, Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic, Stanford (Calif.) Medicine, and Kaiser Family Foundation.

"We want all hospitals to be our partners on this," he said. "We want all folks who are thinking about value-based care to not just think about the trajectory of value-based care that ends beyond the walls of their institution, but rather think about how they can influence health outcomes for people outside along that continuum."

To meaningfully reach Americans with credible health information, healthcare providers need to think beyond their walls. Most patients don't change their behaviors after reading a billboard or flyer — they need something more engaging.

Dr. Graham said YouTube's efforts are moving away from a paternalistic approach to health information and toward a focus on patient engagement. 

"Efforts like ours, the surgeon general's advisory, telemedicine — they all point toward an evolution of meeting patients where they are." he said. "I think that we're on the precipice now, and we as public healthcare leaders need to evolve quickly to get there."


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