Could 'Dr. YouTube' be causing more harm than good this flu season?

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 While YouTube videos explaining how to cook, change a tire or apply makeup have grown in popularity, experts are becoming increasingly concerned with medical how-to videos, like those evaluating symptoms of seasonal influenza.

Social media platforms, including the video-sharing network YouTube, are notorious for spreading misinformation in both their content and their comment feeds. Although patients may turn to these platforms for quick answers, when they need medical education and advice, facts matter.

At the dawn of flu season, researchers at Johnson City-based East Tennessee State University scoured YouTube using the keyword "seasonal influenza" from Jan. 28 to Feb. 5, 2017 to determine how helpful videos are in spreading information on the flu. The team, led by Lakshmi Kallur, MD, analyzed 300 videos based on their characteristics, content and source for their paper published online in the CHEST Journal.

Forty-six percent of video content was focused on patient education, while video content about alternative treatment consisted of only 1 percent of videos. In the videos on alternative medicine, negatively-toned comments — like "I'd rather get the flu every year than a flu shot" — were frequent.

In other words, most videos on the flu were provided by professional societies and healthcare providers. However, although the videos contained accurate information, they did not fulfill the researcher's criteria for educating patients.

"YouTube videos on seasonal influenza were shown to be a poor source of valid healthcare information. Videos by healthcare providers were a better source of information compared to other sources," the researchers wrote.

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